I recently interviewed the CEO of Refound, Jonathan Raymond, on how leaders can develop the skills necessary to become true mentors to the people on their teams. We specifically discussed learning how to blend personal and professional growth, where individuals and organizations can grow at the same time.
Rather than trying to avoid or pretend authority dynamics don’t exist, Jonathan advises rethinking our ideas around accountability to change the subtle dynamics that either bring teams together or tear them apart.
A lot of ink has been spilled on this topic. One side says we should focus on strengths and double down on them, the other side advises to remediate weaknesses.
I look at this differently, because I don’t think that you can separate strengths from weaknesses. When I look at myself and other leaders and managers, I see that strengths and weaknesses are one and the same thing. For example, someone who is great at moving the ball forward is going to almost always have a weakness going along with that of not understanding the impact of that pace on other team members.
When people enter leadership roles they keep doubling-down on past strengths, instead of taking a step back and analyzing their new role. A good question to ask yourself is, maybe the skills that got me here need to evolve now that I am leading a team of people. What would that look like?
For example, one of my clients created a business and in a couple of years grew to $3million plus in revenue. She was an indomitable entrepreneur who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Nothing was impossible from her perspective, and she got really far on that fuel until she hit the wall. Then she realized that some things are impossible, that you can’t will your way through every situation – especially when leading a team.
Strong-willed leaders keep pushing and make the problems worse by disempowering people. Like every leader, she just wanted people to own their work. But she had to ask herself, What if my presence is preventing them from owning their work? No matter how you cajole or demand innovation and ownership, your leadership style is preventing the outcomes you desire far more than we like to admit to ourselves.
We helped her dial that back, which is really scary for leaders. The personal journey of leadership is to leave space for others to own their work and hold them accountable for the result. So much of what I see going wrong with managers is an aversion to holding others accountable because they may have to have a tough conversation or even let people go for failing to perform. Cultures suffer when leaders keep doubling-down on strengths and avoid this shift into a new mode of leadership.
At Refound we compare the two leadership styles. Superman never debriefs a catastrophe afterwards to prevent a repeat occurrence. That would go against the superhero myth of swooping in to save the day, waving and smiling, and flying off to save the next person. Superman is a dysfunctional leader because he never teaches anyone to do things for themselves. He doesn’t know how to elicit growth. It’s all about him and his self-image of being the savior.
Yoda is the opposite. He doesn’t give a damn about his image, he wants to help Luke grow into who Luke thinks he can personally become. But the student has to figure that out for himself, prompted by the master asking questions. Yoda is not afraid for Luke to fall on his face in the swamp and get frustrated. He guides Luke to healing himself of his own arrogance.
At the end of the day, Luke goes to defeat The Empire, although Yoda doesn’t think that he’s ready. It’s Luke’s choice and his individuality is respected by a Yoda style of management. Superman lacks that. He doesn’t know how to respect the individuality of other people.
I see leaders make this mistake. They become aware of their micromanagement and are alarmed by it. So as a first step they try to go all the way to the other side and be totally hands-off. Instead, they need to get in the middle by giving people feedback and data. Managers seldom do this.
We give people a tool called the accountability dial, like a volume dial on an old stereo. You don’t just turn it up to 10, you start with 1 and simply highlight a behavior. For example, “I’ve noticed you coming in late recently. Is something going on?” You are offering data in real time. You don’t say, “You missed your sales numbers so you’re fired.” Instead name the things you see throughout your day that you mostly ignore.
Managers remain silent while creating a story like, that’s too personal, that’s none of my business, or I don’t have the skills to deal with that. They should intervene far earlier in the process, in a far more personal way. Give feedback and say, “Hey, it’s not the end of the world, but I noticed that you’re just not that inspired lately.” That feedback is personal and professional. It’s about seeing where they are in their life and what’s meaningful to them.
That’s the antidote to not aligning with worst case scenarios. Call attention to the observed behavior and the fact that you don’t know what it is or why it’s happening. Share that you care about the other person and that it may be nothing, but if not, you are there to talk more about it.
The accountability dial is the essence of our curriculum, because it prevents what we call Spontaneous Management Combustion. That’s when managers Ignore, ignore, ignore, and then lash out. And lashing out can be subtle like managing around people, or giving them assignments that you know they don’t want to do.
Accountability is about helping people own their strengths in a responsible way. It’s not about punishment. That’s a version of accountability, but it’s incomplete.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you have a gifted writer on a creative team, but they are over-relying on that strength and it drives their teammates crazy. They don’t collaborate with others or submit their updates in the project management tool.
Accountability exists for the team to share that they are paying a huge price for that one employee not tracking how they are using a strength. The writer keeps going back to the well of, “I’m a great writer”, but that’s not good enough for the team.
The modern world is collaborative, communicative, and oriented around relationships. Everyone has to be good at their thing and learn how to use that skill with others. You don’t get to just “do your job”. You have to do it in a way that works for the people around you. As a result, you get to fully enjoy your strength when it helps the team succeed.
Myth #1: I can’t find “good people”.
Good people are everywhere. We interview and hire good people all the time and then something happens. They start working for us and become “bad people”. What happened? Did they stop being good people or did we not train them or give them feedback. We hire good people, don’t invest in them, and then we get frustrated because we “can’t find good people”.
Myth #2: I’m not their therapist, I can’t help them with their personal lives.
When people have the space to share (and not hide), that takes care of most of it. When everyone pretends that the person isn’t going through something, that’s when it goes downhill.
What are you doing as a manager if you’re not willing to help people with their struggles? If somebody struggles with communicating at work, they absolutely have that struggle in their personal life. You have the credibility and authority as a leader to help people with their personal lives through the professional door.
Our manager suit often gets in the way. You don’t have to step over the line and give people spiritual or therapeutic advice. You can offer to create the conditions to help people get through a hard time. It’s not about being their therapist, it’s about showing people how they are showing-up and explaining why others respond as they do. Then show them how they can change things.
I had someone on my team going through a terrible personal crisis. So we sat in my office and talked about it in a general way. I named what was going on, offered a couple of days-off and was willing to just be human.
You also have to be real and hold the business needs simultaneously. If weeks go by and the employee is still dragging down the team, is unaware, and not taking steps to improve, then you have to do something.
I think we’re ready as a business community to take this conversation to a new place — to get rid of this artificial, and almost entirely unnecessary and counterproductive wall we’ve learned to put between personal and professional growth. It’s all life. We’re human. And when we get better at our relationships at work we get better at the ones in our life. Those are the moments that are magic for me – when a client shares a story of how helping someone grow in their job is having an impact on the rest of their life.
After 20 years of not being able to decide whether he was a business development guy or a personal growth teacher, Jonathan stopped trying to figure it out. He’s the CEO of Refound, an online training company that offers Good Authority training programs for owners, executives, and managers.
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