Tag Archives: accountability

Dealing with the Tough Decisions

Every day each person makes a number of decisions.  Some of these decisions are easy and don’t usually have life changing consequences, like if I am going to have another cup of coffee or should I wear the blue tie with stripes or the green one with dots.  But, then there are the other decisions that need to be made, the ones where someone is going to be impacted, or someone won’t be happy.

As our society has changed, expectations have changed and handling situations where someone is not going to be “happy” has also changed.  These changes have complicated how leaders make the tough decisions as well as communicating these decisions.   So, how do you handle these types of situations?  How can we help those around us understand the rationale behind the decisions, without the baggage of a potentially socially charged situation?

First – Make the decision

When situations get tough or difficult, it is natural to want to avoid the “messiness.”  There is a tendency to put off the decision that Scarlett O’Hara moment where we say “I’ll deal with that tomorrow.”  Or, we want to wait and see if the situation takes care of itself.  While sometimes this is good, as it allows you to move from a potential “gut reaction” or allows some of the unknowns to become clearer.  The usual result is that the “messiness” just gets worse and worse and the implications of not making the necessary decision compounds.  The key is to make a decision, and then handle the consequences.

Second – Understanding that what is right is not always easy

Giving feedback to someone that they don’t want to hear, “you aren’t performing up to expectations” or “you can’t continue to provide a poor work product” or “you aren’t qualified for this task,” is never easy.  Leaders need to set expectations.  Leaders need to prepare individuals for the tasks that are to come or situations that they will face in the future.  Life comes with disappointments.  Life is full of failure (remember a good batter in baseball is only successful about one-third of the time).

Our society has changed. People are expecting to not have to work as hard for their goals.  They are expecting to be catered to in a number of different ways.  There is a sense well that doesn’t apply to me, because …….. (fill in the blank).  In this sense, leaders need to understand that they need to stand up for what is right:  meeting the expectations, applying the rules fairly and consistently, and doing the job.  The consequences of not holding to these standards are far reaching and ultimately become a death spiral.  A leader can’t make a decision or not take an action just because it resolves a particular situation today, they have to be aware of the long-term consequences.

Third – Understand it isn’t personal

One of the leadership skills that we all need is dealing with conflict.  If you go to a course on how to provide feedback, or how to deal with conflict; one of the skills that are taught is how to handle an argument by not making it about the person, but about the action or your perception of the action.  For example, you have a team member that is not performing or providing the necessary work product on time.  Rather than saying that the person is lazy, or can’t be counted upon; you should point out that the due date was not met and here are the consequences of those actions.  It is not about the person; it is about the actions and the results.

As leaders we have to understand that when we are taking the “hard line” on a decision, i.e. not relaxing a deadline or a standard; it is not because we don’t like the person; it is because we have to do this in order to what is right for everyone.  We also have to remind ourselves that the subsequent reactions of the individual are not really at us, but at the situation and ultimately at themselves because they did not meet their own expectations.

As true leaders, we will face these situations.  We will get negative feedback.  We have to continually assess ourselves to understand whether or not what we are doing is “right.”  But, the one thing that we must do: is make the decision, and handle the consequences in a tactful and considerate manner.  The key is not to let the situation fester; thus destroying the organization, those involved, and ultimately yourself.


Critical Soft Skills

IMG_1081_editedAs leaders, we are always talking about the soft skills.  Saying things like – “the technical skills are your ticket to the event, but it is the soft skills that will determine whether or not you will get the job or the promotion.”  We espouse the term like everyone knows what these soft skills are.  Sure, we know that is usually means things like team work, problem solving, and communication.  But, think about those terms.  What are we saying?  We are saying something like the elements of salt water are the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, or the South China Sea.  These terms are so broad that there are volumes written on them.

So how do we as leaders counsel others including ourselves about the elements of these board topics so that we are highlighting the critical elements of these “soft skills”.  And, as the critical elements change; how do we get that across to our teams and mentees?  This is a crucial question because it is being able to recognize these changes and being able to articulate them that allows us as leaders to stay relevant.  It is what is going to make the difference between being current or stagnant.

Let’s take for example the topic of several news reports over the past weekend about a critical skill that the Millennials seem to be missing.  It seemed that no matter what news story you watched, they all discussed an aspect of communication.  It is not that the Millennials did not communicate, it was how they were communicating or not communicating.  There seemed to be a lack of direct person-to-person communication via telephone or face-to-face.  Sure, the Millennials would text, use Instagram, or some other social media tool, but these did not involve a direct person-to-person interaction with the non-verbal clues.  Employers are indicating; it is how these individuals are handling or not handling these direct interactions that were costing these individuals, either in terms of not landing jobs or in poor ratings on the job.

Telling a student or mentee or young professional that they need to improve their communication skills may or may not get the point across.  These individuals think that they are communicating and don’t understand what is missing.  We as leaders have to start really articulating what is missing in the soft skill.  In the example, what is missing is that these individuals haven’t had to learn or deal with nuisance or really understand how their bearing conveys just as much of a message as the words they use.

Add to this that some of these “soft skill” areas begin to tread into dangerous territory, the world of perceived discrimination.  For those of us that lived in a bit of a different time, where your superior came in and discussed your physical appearance without consequence; we now have to carefully handle these situations in such a manner as to not trip over a regulation or create a perceived negative environment.  This makes it a challenge in how we guide or mentor individuals to ensure that get the appropriate guidance.  Which is why, we as leaders have to spend the time to think about how to address some of these soft skill issues as well as create safe places and situations where these skills can be learned and practiced.

As soft skills are culturally disseminated, the first thing that we as leaders have to do is become models of the desired behavior.  We must demonstrate the professionalism we desire.  We need to be open to criticism ourselves. We need to encourage dialog.  And, we need to learn how really verbalize areas where the culture is changing and communicate how some actions are perceived by others.  We have to develop a new critical soft skill – dealing with sensitive issues in a sensitive manner.


I just read a short blog about holding yourself accountable.  While it was directed to PR professionals, it is not just PR professionals that face an accountability challenge.  Each and every one of us do – and even if we hold ourselves accountable in one area of our lives – we tend to not do the same in other areas.  Thus, we really need to look at how we got to this point and what can we do to get us out of our current state of lack of accountability.

Blame/Excuses – How many times have you heard this statement “It was not my fault because……”  When we were kids – the imps from Family Circus were to blame for everything “Not me” or “I don’t know.”  We had a set of standard excuses, I couldn’t do this or that because there wasn’t enough time, the teacher did not show me how to do that, they didn’t remind me that the paper was due on Friday, etc.  Today, we can add – the internet was down or there was no reception at this location. 

We have become a society of “it is not my fault.” Or, I am not responsible.  Hooey – someone has to take responsibility.  OK, so the internet was down last night – why did you wait until the last minute to open up the computer to do the assignment or submit the application?  Yes, there are some things beyond our control – the plane was diverted to Helena, Montana when you were going to Denver, Colorado.  But, most of the time the root cause of our problem or failure is because of something we didn’t do or waited to late to do.  We need to think about the “what if’s” and plan ahead better.

We tend to rely on someone else.  It is not your boss’ responsibility to remind you of the deadline for submitting that report to the government is on Tuesday. It is not your boss’ fault that they have told you for two weeks that will be gone on a two week vacation on Monday – and you did not get the signature of approval on the report before they left.  Yes, sometimes it is the boss’ fault when the report sits on their desk for a week, but did you remind them?

Your crisis may not be the most important.  Don’t get angry when the boss or the instructor says too bad when the report is late.  They may have other priorities.  You need to plan ahead.  Recall, your failure does not necessarily create a crisis on my part – I have responsibilities as well.

As individuals – self doubt, worry, and being your own worst critic – become hindrances to productivity.  There is a saying that sometimes we let perfection get in the way of the good or excellent.  Time is an extremely valuable resource.  We don’t have infinite time to get something accomplished.  Yes, we need to turn out good work.  We need to edit, polish, and refine.  But, we shouldn’t hold up others or the project just because you can’t decide whether or not ebony or black is the perfect word for the sentence.

As a society – we have allowed this lack of accountability.  Instructors have accepted late homework.  Clubs and organizations have accepted applications past the deadline.  And, the government continually moves the deadlines to suit their needs.  As individuals, we need to show some leadership and stop sliding down the slippery slope.  Exceptions should be rare and not expected.  Currently, they seem to be the norm.  We need to hold the line on deadlines.  Hold ourselves and our colleagues accountable.  We need to have accountability partners.  We need to maintain the same accountability in all areas of our lives.