Leadership Accountability and the Power of "Us"

Success, Accountability, & Donuts

It was a Tuesday. I was playing football in high school and I was merely going through the motions in just another practice. I was a receiver that was supposed to block a defensive player from tackling the running back. The runner ran the wrong way, jumped in the air, got slammed into the ground, and fumbled the ball. The reason why I can remember the play so well was because I stopped blocking once I saw he was running the wrong way. Incensed, the coach yelled for about ten seconds at the running back, wanted to run the play again, and then yelled for me to switch to running back. I thought it slightly odd, but I thought it was for me to show the runner the correct play. I didn’t know until later the coach removed a few offensive players before the play began. As I got the ball and I turned the corner, I noticed two defensive players coming upfield, full speed, unblocked, and smiling. I got destroyed. After the play ended, the coach walked over and looked down at me.

“See what happens when someone loafs on a play? It hurts. It hurts the team.”

Focusing on achieving personal success is not a problem for many of us. In fact, it’s an obsession. It’s what drives and motivates us towards the job we have now, or the one we are preparing for. The accomplishment of large compensation, recognition, and a few extra letters after our name with a corner office by the window; this is the prestige that awaits us. Once your place on the mountain is attained, secure your position so no one comes close to taking it. Horde that knowledge until you are about to retire, or they have to pry you out of your parking spot with a rusty crowbar. Right?

If you are an HR professional, you may have seen individuals like this before. They are walking zombies, mentally hibernating through meetings and completely foreign to words such as technology, change, or something different. They feel as though their tenure and survival gives them an accelerated competency above those who may appear younger and inexperienced, but their granular contributions do nothing to move the company forward. How can you reason with an individual that believes their work from ten years ago is still perfection? How can you possibly break through to a person who is numb to logic? How can you get your leader of leaders to see there is a problem when the results they think they are achieving are not present?

Buy them a box of donuts.

If you’ve ever watched the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” there is a training Marine Sergeant who absolutely owns the first part of the movie. Relentlessly brutal, effortlessly direct, and mentally superior throughout the training regiment; his leadership prowess is unquestionably cutting, abusive, and effective. Yet, despite his best efforts with one recruit (who has obvious problems) to maintain the basic standards, a single unauthorized, jelly donut begins a cycle of discipline… on everyone else. The Sergeant announces the recruits’ failure is his fault, …and everyone else’s fault because they had not taken an interest in the recruit. They only watched as the recruit continued to fail while they avoided the discipline the failing recruit received. The Sergeant then announces that instead of punishing the recruit going forward, he would discipline the entire platoon instead every time the recruit made a mistake. “They are paying for it. You eat it.”

It’s a radical concept, but maybe not. What if your success no longer depended on what you did as an individual, but what your team accomplishes? There are mountains of metaphorical clichés I could use to describe the power of teamwork, but there is something deeper to be gained. How often do you look at someone’s weakness or shortcoming as a personal opportunity to elevate yourself? What if your boss suddenly said, ‘if everyone doesn’t turn in their reports on time, you are all considered late.’ Would you wrap a bar of soap in a towel and start banging it on the cubical wall of your coworker, or would you offer to help them? We all know there is value in winning together, but it all changes if your personal success depended on the efforts of someone else.

If you are reading this and shaking your head because there is no way you could depend on your teammates to be successful, you are perfect for Sales. For everyone else, the power “us” will always be stronger than the power of “one.” When I care about your success and you care about mine, there is a level of true accountability and trust that eliminates hidden agendas and needless whispers of the obvious. Telling a peer they are not doing something right can be terrifying, especially if they are described in the second paragraph above. So… who cares? If you say it the right way and clarify your reasons for saying something, let them know:

  • Yes, you have a booger in your nose.

  • Dude… you are mean sometimes.

  • When you elevate yourself, you make us all look bad.

  • Altoids… they do work, even for you.

  • Stop trying to be perfect…be yourself and work on the skill gaps.

  • When you come in late, you are setting a bad example.

  • What do you see in me that I can improve?

Self Development is your responsibility. Team Development is Organizational Development everyone’s responsibility. The recognition of a person’s mediocrity is natural. Not caring about it or watching the flames engulf their career is negligible. Great leaders don’t have mediocre teams. They have people who are vested in the success of others, as well as themselves. Great leaders don’t just expect accountability, they teach it. That’s why my coach let me get throttled for one play. Watching/ ignoring a peer’s shortcoming doesn’t just hurt them.

It hurts the team.

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