By Kristen Cooper originally published in the Indianapolis Business Journal on 11/6/20
Accountability is one of the traits I value most in a leader, partner, friend and colleague. Accountable people are truthful, keep their word, follow through, take responsibility, withstand pressure, address incompetence, work until the job gets done and don’t tolerate two-faced behavior. Whether you are a powerful CEO, rising up on the corporate ladder, or play on a team, ask yourself if your community finds you to be “accountable.” If yes, cheers to you! If no, you’ve got some work to do.
Be the ‘real you’ consistently
During one of The Startup Ladies’ Mental Wellness for Business programs, social worker Dana Simons taught us that young children develop bonds with their mother because of the responsiveness to their needs. Similarly, in business you have to lead, manage, communicate and be responsive in consistent ways so that colleagues know what to expect from you. If the leader’s actions are consistently healthy, positive and in the best interest of the employees, you win trust over time. If you operate like an emotional roulette table, fear displaces trust. If you find that you show up inconsistently in professional relationships, work with a therapist.
Show up like an ‘essential worker’
My friend Jason Pierce has worked in emergency rooms for nearly 20 years as a nurse. I had the pleasure of learning from him several years ago when I worked in health care. He’s smart, always prepared, full of jokes and makes you feel both wanted and necessary. Like many essential workers, he has been working very long days without many breaks over the past eight months. Despite pure exhaustion from taking care of patients with COVID-19, and family responsibilities, he updates his social media feed to keep his followers educated, connected, inspired—and sometimes he really makes us laugh.
Jason has been the model of both a leader and a team player throughout his career. In his line of work, he can’t go home when he’s tired. He stays until the patients get what they need. When you feel depressed, angry, overwhelmed, impatient or have the urge to give up, think about essential workers like Jason. Take a break, remember why you do what you do, and then get back to supporting those who report to you.
Resolve problems directly with peers
Anyone who survives a merger knows that they are rife with obstacles and opportunities. I was a part of a merger several years ago and was required to work with a peer whose approach to solving problems in my area of expertise was very different than mine. While I respected her intelligence, we disagreed frequently at first. My boss told me that I needed to figure out a way to work with her. Unexpectedly, a truly big problem arose. We instantly became a united front when it came to solving the issue. We surprised each other, became good friends and supported one another fiercely for the duration of our employment.
Good leaders provide resources and support for employees that teach them how to talk with their colleagues, address the problem and repair the relationship. Allowing employees to “tell on” one another creates a false sense of safety. Creating a culture of trust requires training on conflict resolution and regular maintenance on collegial relationships. Employees need a teacher not a savior.
Own it. Apologize. Fix it.
Father Bob of Notre Dame Elementary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, heard my first confession face-to-face, when I was in second grade. That day, he was ornately adorned in a long ivory robe trimmed in gold. I wore a pink dress and pigtails, sat down in front of him and said, “Father Bob, I don’t really do big sins. This week, I cursed, fought with my brother and didn’t clean my room when I was supposed to. I think if I’m bad, I should say sorry to the person (I hurt) instead of telling a priest.” He agreed that apologizing directly to the person was important, and then doubled down on the importance of the sacrament of confession and gave me two Hail Marys to pray.
The matter of apologizing in the workplace has become confusing to people. Some think that apologizing is a sign of weakness. It certainly isn’t if you apologize when you need to. Whenever you drop the ball, miss a deadline or negatively impact someone else’s work: Own it, apologize, and fix the situation. Don’t wait for someone else to clean up your mess. It’s the only way that trust can be regained in the relationship. If a second grader can get this right, anyone can.
Accountable people hold people accountable. It isn’t easy, but our workplaces need more leaders to hold themselves and those around them accountable for their actions and inactions with rigorous consistency.