Leadership is not a Popularity Contest

Working toward goals gives our lives meaning and purpose

As a manager, it is more important to be respected than popular. Yet, bosses often relinquish their leadership responsibility to ensure their employees are answerable for their actions because they want to be liked.

There are significant consequences when employee accountability is low. The most important, individual and corporate productivity fails to reach its true potential. These organizations are easy to spot because plans never get off the ground, agreed upon actions are not completed or commitments are not fulfilled.  If people are not carrying their weight, others feel the burden of picking up the slack and begin to resent it. As a result, employee motivation and initiative is severely lacking, morale drops creating a culture that rewards mediocrity.

Human beings are teleologic—they are target seeking individuals. Working toward goals gives our lives meaning and purpose. Therefore, people (especially salespeople) inherently want to learn, grow and contribute to something meaningful. They even desire a healthy environment of discipline where they are held accountable reach their goals and those of their employer. When business professionals are not held to certain performance standards—effort relaxes, productivity declines and expectations are not met.

Managers are often unclear on how to hold people accountable—they tend to be too harsh or too soft. As a result, they tend to shy away from demanding their employees keep their commitments because they are afraid or want to avoid confrontation. They believe, if they press — people will quit or undermine their efforts. The most common reason managers fail to hold their people accountable is they value popularity over being effective.

Somewhere along the line, bosses adopted the misconception that good management means being “friends” with subordinates. They believe that if they can get their teams to like them enough—they will work harder for them. Yet, this could not be farther from the truth. The most effective leaders are trusted first then respected. How much would you trust and respect a supervisor for allowing you to get away with mediocrity when you were actually wired for greatness?!

Frankly, it is much easier to let employees off the hook. It takes a lot of time to monitor, follow up, guide, correct, advise and help people stay on track.

There are several effective ways you can gain greater results from your team without using ‘the strong arm of the law’ approach. First, create clear performance expectations based on appropriate and consistent standards. Consider including several members of your team when developing expectations to ensure you take a fair and balanced approach.

More and more leaders have adopted the practice of establishing key results or accountabilities for each role reporting to them. To do this effectively, be sure to ‘let the job talk’—let the reasons the job exists define the expectations you describe. This will work to reduce performance standards that include unique and personal capabilities or biases which may not be relevant to required job criteria.

Next, communicate these expectations to your team. Do it in such a way that stimulates dialogue—as to ensure standards are understood and personal ownership is won. Be sure to discuss parameters or scope of authority included in your expectations. Explore real-world scenarios or examples to provide practical illustration on how to handle various situations required to achieve results expected.

Role accountability should elicit the same qualities as well developed goals: specific, measurable, actionable, repeatable and time sensitive (deadlines). The efforts you invest toward making your expectations clear, specific and demonstrable will save you enormous time and aggravation down the road—so don’t skip this part.

Think about specific ways to create an environment where your employees will be successful. Keep in mind, not all people are motivated by the same things. Therefore, you will need to adapt your reasons and rationale to the unique interests each individual. People will resist or reject ‘rules’ if they are viewed as unfair or inappropriate (academic/irrelevant) so be sure to describe how individual efforts directly and specifically contribute to the overall performance or objectives expected.

When dealing with people, it’s not enough to “SET IT & FORGET IT!”. You must monitor progress and continually reinforce expectations. Keep in mind, what gets reinforced—gets repeated. This includes recognizing efforts and accomplishments on a consistent basis. Keep in mind, praise is a person’s greatest emotional need therefore it is a powerful motivator and should be routinely used as part of your leadership style.

As a manager, you have the responsibility, if not obligation, of leading your team and your company to achieve their true potential.  This includes establishing realistic but high performance standards. People are wired for accomplishment and want to be held accountable for their actions. Take some time today to renew your resolve to become a better leader by believing your people for more. Then adopt the necessary steps to help them achieve it. Because, effective leadership is ultimately achieved by the actions you repeatedly take to create a culture of excellence.

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