All You Need to Know About Holding People Accountable

accountabilityOnce again, I’m motivated to write a post based on recent coaching conversations. This time, the topic is holding people accountable. A quick internet search found many references to two actions so common-sense it’s hard to believe that it takes someone from The Center for Creative Leadership or The Harvard Business Review to spell them out.

1. Define and clarify roles, goals, and expectations.
How can a leader hold anyone accountable if there isn’t alignment and understanding as to what success looks like? To compound the issue, a leader who sends confused or mixed messages about performance will be contributing to a culture of mistrust, uncertainty, doubt, and fear. So why is getting clarity and alignment about roles and goals so difficult to get right?

Here’s what I’ve heard:

– I thought they understood ….
– We discussed expectations in performance reviews
– We reviewed team goals at the staff meeting
– I sent out an e-mail to the team
– It’s obvious what we need to do to succeed – meet our numbers!
– We don’t have time to _____________________.

The only problem here is the belief that people hear and perceive messages the same way. It’s a common misperception that because we’re in the same situational experience, we all must be experiencing it the same way. In actual fact, we are never having a common situational experience. Ten leaders on a conference call or sitting around a board room table are having 10 different, thought-generated experiences on a continuum of clarity and presence to disengaged and checked out. And, that level of clarity and presence will fluctuate throughout the meeting within each individual.

A leader who understands the inside-out nature of reality in the moment will naturally want to verify and validate what his/her team members are hearing. It won’t make sense to broadcast a one-way message to a distracted team, to assume silence equals agreement, or to believe that sending an e-mail will “make it so.”

Furthermore, a leader who realizes that the frustration s/he feels when communicating current business challenges and expectations is always and only coming from thought in the moment and not the situation or the team’s reactions, will be better able to maintain the presence and connection required for getting alignment and commitment.

2. Provide honest, timely feedback on progress or lack thereof.
I’m beginning to suspect that the current over-emphasis on being politically correct is contributing to a lack of honest conversations about progress on goals and objectives. Some corporate cultures seem to reinforce the old adage “if you can’t say something nice…” sending an implied message that negative/constructive feedback is somehow disrespectful. Isn’t it disrespectful not to be honest with people?

Again, the faulty reasoning that our feelings come from anything other than thought in the moment is at play. Some leaders worry about how critical feedback will be received and from that place of worry and discomfort, they deliver vague, confusing messages about performance – or avoid having the discussion altogether. Others may take poor performance personally and react from feelings of anger and frustration that look absolutely justified when one believes that circumstances cause feelings – and therefore that dire circumstances require “tough talk.”

There are many reasons for lack of progress or poor performance, but there’s only one way to really understand what’s going on. We need to have a connected conversation from a space of mental clarity. And finding this space is not about tips or techniques. Every introductory supervisor training has a module covering performance feedback. There’s no formula for interpersonal effectiveness – it’s about understanding how human beings operate.

The Secret to Holding People Accountable

The key to more effective conversations about performance is realizing two facts:

1. We are all living in separate realities created by thought taking form uniquely in each person, in every moment

2. Our feelings are always and only coming from our thinking and not the circumstances

Each of us is living in an ever-changing world of thought in the moment – from inside of us, not from circumstances or other people. When we realize how the mind works, we don’t waste energy and create noise in the system looking outside of ourselves for the cause of our emotions in the moment. Without that activity, mental clarity is our natural state of mind. From that space, wisdom, common sense, and connection emerge and honest, effective conversations are possible, regardless of the situation.

Presence and Gravitas….when you don’t have dragons

dragonIn my coaching practice, I’m often asked to help leaders develop executive presence or gravitas. Here’s how I reflect on what to do:

Executive presence…. Hmmm, what’s thought got to do with it? (I hear the Tina Turner melody in my head.)

Of course, it’s always about the role and nature of thought, but I have to connect some dots first. So, I usually start with a quick visit to the blogosphere to look for definitions and examples. Such as:

In a survey asking CIOs to list the top 20 leadership skills, Executive Presence came in second. The post listed 7 traits: Composure, Connection, Charisma (ability to draw others in; often achieved by strong listening skills and an ability to stay in the moment), Confidence (what you say and how you say it – posture, eye contact, pitch volume, pace); Credibility (no filler language), Clarity, and Conciseness (not verbose).

In his HBR blog post Deconstructing Executive Presence, John Beeson states:

“Although executive presence is highly intuitive and difficult to pin down, it ultimately boils down to your ability to project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations; make tough decisions in a timely way and hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.”

Colin Gautrey advises those looking to develop “genuine” gravitas that the behavior is “The external evidence of a deeply held conviction that the individual is totally competent to do what is expected of them and handle anything that comes their way, without feeling the need to prove themselves.” He concludes (and I rest my case) that “The problem is that gravitas comes from within….”

Next, I simplify. Sounds to me like self-confidence and mental clarity.

So what gets in the way of self-confidence and mental clarity? Lots of ego-driven thinking and self-doubt; endless “Who am I and How am I doing?” comparisons. The louder the chatter, the less presence and mental clarity are available in the moment. Gripped by a host of feelings – insecurity, defensiveness, upset, impatience – that appear to be coming from current circumstances, it’s impossible to behave like a confident, credible leader.

Now I can get down to the business of sharing what I know about how the human operating system really works.

1. Our feelings and experience of life are always and only coming from our thinking in the moment.

2. When we realize the fact of this understanding, we are less gripped by our thinking in the moment and don’t waste time and energy trying to fix our circumstances.

3. When our heads are clear, we naturally have fresh thinking that gives us what we need in the moment. There is an intelligence in the system that will never let us down.

The implications of this understanding as they relate to executive presence and gravitas are myriad.

Let’s start with the 7 Cs listed above. Take away the mental chatter and from a clear and present focus, it’s possible to listen deeply and connect with others in the moment. Regardless of the situation, it’s possible to remain calm and composed – or at the very least to recover quickly from spikes of emotional reactions. When nervous, anxious feelings slip away, the outward behaviors that signal confidence and credibility naturally emerge. Posture, pace, pitch, volume, and eye contact take care of themselves. The message is delivered in a clear, concise, confident manner.

The leader who knows that his or her feelings are not coming from a challenging situation or a strong-willed colleague or customer is able to maintain composure and diffuse emotional situations with calm, fact-based questions and a natural willingness to attempt to understand others. The leader who understands that change, uncertainty, and workload are never the source of stress and pressure will have more mental bandwidth available to see different ways of getting things done, make timely decisions, and set priorities.

Once again, there is nothing that can help my clients more than understanding how their minds work. It always comes back to the Principles – whether I specifically talk about Mind, Consciousness, and Thought or not.

PS: For those who are not Game of Thrones fans — that’s Daenerys Targaryen with one of her dragons

It’s Not About Heading for a Good Feeling….

Porcupine (1)Lately I’ve been seeing the implications of the 3 Principles in a much simpler way, thanks to Keith Blevens and Valda Monroe along with the work I’ve been doing with Chantal Burns.  There’s only one thing people need to understand in order to reap the benefits of the understanding that Syd Banks shared with the world so many years ago.  It’s this:  All experience is always coming from your thinking in the moment.  Period.

When you realize this, those thoughts fail to have the impact they used to have.  They don’t have any staying power.  It doesn’t make sense to entertain thinking that’s outside-in.  When you don’t pay attention to outside-in thoughts, your mind automatically clears and you’re connected to your wisdom and common sense – the source of new thought, thus a new experience in the moment.

Notice what is missing here.  There is absolutely nothing to do – especially anything that has to do with judging thought or the resultant feeling state as good or bad.  It took me a while to understand that this is what Keith and Valda mean when they say you can’t split thought.  Just like you can’t split the principle of gravity.  There’s not good gravity and bad gravity, it’s all gravity.

So here’s what this means in terms of the coaching and sharing I do in business.

  • Taking the notion of good thought and bad thought, good feeling and bad feeling off the table is huge for me. It gets rid of all the doing that clutters up my clients’ minds.  They don’t have to be their own personal thought police, constantly on the lookout for bad feelings to do something about.
  • When I’m not implicitly or explicitly labeling thinking as good or bad, I don’t have to debate with my clients about whether the feeling of stress is good or bad. I have many clients who love to be under a tight deadline or working on a technical problem on the critical path of a project. One person’s stress is another person’s exhilaration.  And trust me, you don’t want to be debating that fact with scientists and engineers!
  • You don’t have to look for a good feeling or any other feeling for that matter. You don’t have to choose to love your neighbor or get curious about the perceptions of your co-workers.  Those feelings are the result of a clear and present mind – and when you don’t entertain illogical outside-in perceptions, you will automatically return to your innate clear and present state.  You’ll see that we are all doing what makes sense to us in the moment, that we all have human frailties.
  • It’s true that when we’re not doing a lot of thinking about our thinking, our minds settle down and we may get flooded with a beautiful feeling of love and gratitude and connection in the moment. But it’s not about working to be in that blissful state more often as though that’s the place to be.  The wisdom of the system will give you what you need in the moment without your interference.

Recently I’ve been talking with a number of people who have been to lovely seaside retreats or incredibly inspiring conference events that, in their minds, generated beautiful feelings of peace and love and gratitude.  I’ve heard people say that it’s too bad they have to go back to the outside world of ringing phones and meetings and other interruptions.  Sometimes, innocently we don’t see that this very statement implies that the outside world/reality is responsible for ruining our state of bliss.  Sometimes people hear that if you have a very deep understanding of the principles or if you really “get it,” you will be in this blissful state all the time, most of the time, or at the very least, more than the people who don’t get it.  I don’t agree, and I also think it takes people down a path of doing, of being on a quest to find and sustain a feeling of bliss and contentment — A state that already exists behind our thinking.

Here’s what occurred to me today when I was walking in the woods with my dogs.  I’m very well acquainted with that beautiful feeling, and it moves me to tears whether I’m sitting in a retreat center or driving in my car on the highway on a beautiful day.  But the wisdom of the human operating system serves up thought that is just what I need in the moment.  For example, sometimes as I’m walking along the path with my dogs, I’m completely zoned out.  I’m not thinking about anything.  I feel fabulous.  I often have insights about a work project or a client or just how damn lucky I am to have the life I have.  However, when I hear the engine of a 4-wheeler coming in our direction, I am immediately super focused on what I might have to do to get myself and my dogs to safety.  It’s a different feeling – but it’s not good or bad.  Did the 4-wheeler ruin my walk?

A few years ago on a walk, one of my dogs was exploring around a stone wall and wound up with a snout covered with porcupine quills.  We were about 30 minutes away from my car so it was a bit of a scramble to get back there and then to the vet.  Once there, 20 minutes and $200 later, my pup was fine.  So fine in fact that a few weeks later, he did it again.  For a few months after that I was hypervigilant whenever we walked by a stone wall – which in the woods in New England is just about all the time!  Was that wrong?  Should I have been trying to get back to my blissful state?  Was the fact that in New Hampshire we have little creatures called porcupines that are covered with nasty quills the reason for my lack of bliss?  NO.  The mind gives us what we need when we need it.  In other words, my common sense dictated that I needed, at times, to keep a closer eye on my dogs.

In my mind, saying that the commitments and facts of working life take me away from my blissful retreat-mode feeling or the reoccurring state of gratitude and love, would be like believing the porcupines ruined my dog walk.  Then I could decide to work on that thinking and cultivate compassion for the porcupines.  Or be grateful that my dog wasn’t hurt badly.  But that doesn’t make sense.  What makes sense is that no matter what I’m feeling in the moment, my experience is always coming from thought – and only thought. There’s nothing to work on or strive for – it just is.  Like porcupines and stone walls in New Hampshire.