Worked Up At Work

How to handle sticky office situations

Leadership Means Accountability Too

No matter how high you climb, human nature is still a challenge.

One organizational pitfall that’s tough to avoid is human nature. Call it psychology or natural limits, it usually boils down to pitfalls that you should avoid.

One of the easiest to trip on involves seemingly simple missteps that can have a business owner or manager labeled hypocritical. And seldom is this more on display than in areas that involve accountability.

Business and organizational leaders often stress accountability for their workers. They’re right to do so. Employees must know up front that they will be responsible not only for their work, but their behavior. It’s part of what it takes to maintain a productive workplace and, ultimately, that’s one of the first priorities of any successful business or organization.

But accountability is also a two-way street. Not only do good leaders model the behavior they expect, they also maintain the desired environment with their accountability just as much as the workers. The problem with accountability is that it can be a difficult challenge for everyone.

I once dealt with a leader who broke and lost the trust of his people when he discussed inappropriate and confidential matters relating to one worker with others. This is another of those self-inflicted wounds and, in this case, it was a rookie mistake. Nevertheless, it created serious problems.

In this case, the leader told person A something about person B. Person A recognized immediately that the information shared by the leader was personal and confidential, and that it should never have been shared with anyone else.

The leader might have thought that person A would take it as a compliment that he or she was being taken into the leader’s confidence, but it never really works that way. Person A will immediately wonder if the leader is sharing personal, confidential and inappropriate information about Person A with others. Employees are smart enough to know that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Employee A will wonder, “If the leader is saying this or that to me about others, then what is he saying to others about me?”

By doing this, all trust is lost. Additionally, the leader’s credibility is forfeited because good leaders don’t do this. At best it looks like the leader is engaging in gossip. At worst, the leader looks like a manipulator and someone who sows divisiveness.

What should have happened? The leader should have resisted the urge to divulge private information or insights into the ranks—almost always a bad idea. In good management, confidentialities must be honored. People must be able to trust their leaders to hold some information as confidential.

There are legal reasons for this as well. When leaders cannot be trusted to hold certain things in confidence, when staff feels that their leaders cannot be counted on to be discrete, then the very fabric of the organization will be torn. There is nothing more fundamental than trust. Once a manager or leader loses it, it almost never can be reclaimed.

Good managers know that being consistent is important, whether the topic is accountability or other demands. It’s not always easy, but it’s important.

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., C.M.C., is the president of Labor Management Advisory Group and HR Solutions: On-Call, and the author of Mess Management: Lessons From a Corporate Hit Man.

more...

Subscribe to Worked Up At Work

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?