Even when we have done our own part well, things still don’t always “go right” in the workplace. People make mistakes: they do less than their best, they blame, they create conflict, they fail to perform, the list goes on. When we have done our own part well and things have still gone wrong, we must correct inappropriate or misguided behavior. The following four concepts guide us in navigating correction in a new (and less intimidating) light:
1. Holding people accountable is part of seeing them as people.
To hold people accountable for their performance in all directions is to see and treat them as people—people who have the capacity to be responsible, to contribute, to make decisions, to achieve results. To indulge them by failing to require high standards of performance and conduct is to see them as objects—usually as a vehicle that we want to admire us and/or like us. (If we think about it, we will discover that most of the time when we fail to hold people accountable we are thinking of ourselves—not of them and not of the results we are to achieve together.)
2. Corrective action follows directly from the concept of personal accountability.
Correction is required only when people are not holding themselves accountable for their performance or conduct. In those cases we are simply supplying the accountability they are failing to supply. That’s all correction is.
3. Holding people accountable is enlivening, not punishing.
When we are inward, our correction of others will tend to be punishing: angry, spiteful, sarcastic, even abusive. This is not accountability. Accountability is simply holding people to the high standards of performance and conduct which are expected of them and which they already understand. We do this in a clear, but helpful and straightforward way, and most often in a spirit of encouragement.
4. Our ability to hold others accountable depends on our effectiveness in holding ourselves accountable.
Correction of others is never effective (and never just) if we are not trying our best. That is why, when it is time to correct someone who reports to us, our first step is to ask six questions about ourselves. (Am I delivering results? Do I have an outward mindset? Have I built strong, healthy relationships with my coworkers? Have I built strong, healthy relationships with my team members? Do I know my team members and their needs, and am I actively learning from them? Have I taught my team members what they need to know and provided them with the tools they need to succeed?) We needn’t be perfect in our leadership in order to correct others, but our correction of them must be based on expectations that are reasonable in light of our own leadership performance and our own efforts to improve. If I see gaps in my own performance, but also recognize an immediate need to help my direct report correct their performance, acknowledge my own weaknesses and need for improvement during my conversation with this employee.