Be careful of the two-headed monster!

Accountability is one of these corporate concepts that could make a great difference in almost every aspect of any company’s culture, performance and business results. Unfortunately, in most organizations and teams ‘accountability’ is simply not practiced or effectively promoted and nurtured.

In fact, in most organizations, there seems to be awkwardness when dealing with accountability.

In some organizations accountability is not a big topic. People don’t bring it up and they don’t even expect it. This is simply because they don’t know how to approach it or bring it about.

However, in most modern organizations people do bring up the topic of accountability on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the fact that the concept is being talked about doesn’t mean it is present as a behavior. In fact, in most organizations accountability lives as talk and no action.

People talk about accountability mainly when they want to criticise, complain, blame others or just blow steam when they are frustrated about the fact that things are not moving or changing fast or effective enough, and when they feel that no one is doing anything about it.

Contrary to what leaders often say, they seem to be ok with the lack of clarity and enforcement of accountability. But, at the same time, they also seem to feel personally attached to and identified with their titles and what they are allegedly accountable for.

Because of that, calling people to the carpet and holding people to account, especially when they didn’t do what they promised, is often not an easy or comfortable conversation to have. In fact, even assigning accountability or enrolling people to take it in the first place requires a level of commitment to high performance, clarity, and courage that to be honest even senior leaders often don’t have.

Sometimes when organizations don’t want to confront the topic of who should be accountable for specific activities they come up with a compromise of assigning two leaders to be accountable for the same team, project or task. In most organizations, this model of accountability is typically referred to as ‘two-in-a-box‘.

In most cases, the ‘two-in-a-box accountability’ model is a sellout; the wrong answer for the wrong reasons. More importantly, it doesn’t work!

I was working with the marketing function of a large global technology company. When it came to managing and storing their own data, as well as their customer’s collateral, they had a fragmented model in place, where multiple teams were responsible for managing different parts of the information. Needless to say, this was not efficient, people were confused both internally and externally about roles and responsibilities, and these dynamics caused tensions between team members.

The leader of the organization decided to make a change, so he gathered his senior leadership to discuss who should be accountable for this area. To be fair, managing and sorting this volume of information and data is a complex and challenging task so the discussion wasn’t an easy one and it took time. However, the fact that different leaders had personal agendas about how this should go, only made things more difficult.

The team didn’t reach a conclusion and the senior leader, who didn’t want to dictate a resolution, instead created a two-in-a-box model by assigning the accountability to the two leaders whose jobs were closest this field. These were also the two leaders who competed for the role.

Things only deteriorated from there. Instead of trying to work together the two-in-a-box leaders continued to work in silos without much sharing and collaboration. As a result, the lack of clarity about roles and responsibility only deepened, team members and customers didn’t know who to go to for different information and solutions, resentments grew, and productivity plunged.

Trust me, this is not a one-off scenario.

No matter what rationale senior leaders come up with to explain and justify their compromise, when you strip it down, the reason is typically avoiding the tough conversations and tough decisions, which may upset one leader when you give him/her the accountability and/or upset another leader when you take away his/her accountability.

After all, if there is 100% clarity and transparency, and everyone knows that you are or are not accountable for a certain area, this could have implications on your perceived status and importance in the organization.

So, contrary to what they often publically declare, leaders opt for generalization and vagueness rather than clarity and transparency.

Unfortunately, the consequences of this lack of clarity are dear, including politics, stagnation, and erosion of trust and confidence in senior leadership.

Do you think that if leaders truly confronted and owned the consequences of their lack of decisiveness and clarity they would change their ways?

Are you leading with power or force?

In my work with organizations, I meet many effective managers and executives who have a wide variety of leadership styles and personalities. 

Some drive progress in a proactive way and others are more reactive. Some make things happen directly, while others talk a good game but only play it through others. Some are self-centered and selfish in their pursuit of results, while others are generous and kind. Some promote politics and fear around them when they get things done, while others get results by inspiring and motivating others to do their best.

When it comes to driving results and making things happen there is a difference between leaders who lead with force and those who lead with power.

Take for example the following three leaders (real stories, fictional names):

  • George was a very tough and rough (prickly) leader. However, he was a very effective one too. He drove his team hard, but because he himself worked even harder, and also because he sincerely cared about his people, he had a very strong level of loyalty and trust in his organization. However, when it came to interacting with other groups the picture was not as pretty. He cared about the company, not just his own area, but when it came to navigating through internal corporate politics, he lacked patience and finesse, therefore he had a tendency to behave like a bull in a china shop. He was abrupt and often instructed his people to do things that affected their colleagues, without coordination or communication. There was no middle ground with George, people either loved him or hated him, but, everyone feared him.
  • Diane was one of the most senior female leader in her organization, which made things more challenging for her. Even though her role required a close interaction with the CEO, and she probably had his ear more than some of her peers, she always felt a bit of an outsider in the senior management team. She was effective in achieving results. However, perhaps because she felt disrespected or inferior she had a tendency to wave her title around and assert her authority whenever she needed to get things done. Needless to say, this rubbed people the wrong way, which only hurt her respect in the wider organization. Her own team members felt embarrassed by and frustrated by her behavior and reputation. But, because they didn’t trust her enough they didn’t feel comfortable telling her how they felt.
  • In contrast with George and Diane, everyone respected and trusted Michael in his company. This was a good thing as he had a cross-functional role that affected everyone. Even though he had a higher rank in his company then George and Diane did in theirs, he didn’t seem to care much about status. He did care, however about driving collaboration and results. In fact, he was passionate and adamant about it, and everyone knew it. He wasn’t afraid to compel, even demand of people to communicate and collaborate for the good of the whole. While he frequently pushed people way beyond their comfort level, no one seemed to take it personally or be threatened by him. In fact, even people who didn’t report to him listened to him and allowed him to informally guide and coach their views and behaviors. In many cases, he made a bigger difference in motivating and inspiring employees and managers than their direct bosses.

As a leader, you can be effective and get the job done in many different styles and approaches. However, there are different consequences to different styles.

Leaders who use force or authority may achieve the results they want. In fact, they may even get things done quicker than those who don’t. However, they often leave behind them a wake of corporate casualties, including colleagues who feel upset, left out, used, taken advantage of, disrespected and/or demeaned.

Leaders who use force or authority also tend to have a negative reputation in the organization. They typically say all the right corporate slogans, however, people don’t see them as authentic. In fact, they tend to be viewed as political, agenda driven and self-serving. People avoid partnering with them, and because team members usually fear them, there tends to be a lot of gossip about them but not a lot of open, honest and direct communication and feedback with them.

In contrast, leaders who use power inspire trust, loyalty, and collaboration. They may go slower and take more time to achieve the results. However, they do so in order to include and align all the key stakeholders, and at the end of the day not only did they achieve the outcomes, but they have built a strong and authentic coalition of committed team members who fully own the future.

Leaders who use power don’t care about organizational borders and silos. They also don’t care about status. They truly wear two equal hats every day – the responsibility for their own organization, as well as the greater good of the whole. And, they are not afraid to hold their colleagues to account, communicate openly and honestly and volunteer for greater corporate assignments beyond their day job. Their personal commitment, example, and courage inspire others throughout the organization to do the same.

What type of a leader are you?



Don’t stop while you are ahead

Most teams make the classic mistake of taking their foot off the gas in their change initiatives when things actually start to change. They commit to change, work hard to make changes and then at the most critical moment when things start to improve and change, they abandon the rigor, discipline and focus that brought them to the change in the first place.

This is a typical human behavior that most or all of us are guilty of from time to time.

How many of you can relate to the following example: You decide to lose weight and/or get into physical shape. You sign up to the gym, hire a personal trainer and perhaps even a nutritionist and off you go. You make a big effort to stay the course, you are zealous about complying with your exercise and healthy eating routines and you make sure to not get distracted or discouraged by challenging moments. It takes time, and at first, you don’t see the benefits. However, after a while your efforts pay off – you start to feel and see the difference. Your body looks trimmer, you feel lighter, you are eating healthier, and overall you are on a new trend. You feel amazing because the progress you made is beyond anything you have done in previous attempts.

BUT then, at the height of your success, you start rounding corners. You skip gym sessions, you stop being strict about what you eat and you allow old habits to creep in. At first, you justify your lapses with excuses such as: “I am doing so well, I can afford a little indulgence”. However, before you know it you are well on your way downhill, you have ruined your new established discipline and routine, you are eating badly and gaining weight again and the worst things is you have become cynical and resigned again.

What most teams go through when taking on fundamental culture and behavior change is the same dynamic.

Unfortunately, the reality relating to change initiatives is even more dire. Most teams don’t even stay the course in their change initiatives for long enough to get to the stage of seeing real changes. The sadder news is that the few fortunate teams who do reach change, don’t do a good job at turning their new reality into the new norm.


The simple answer is that most teams simply don’t understand and appreciate the source and nature of change.

The source of change is sustained commitment in action. This means declaring your commitment and then forcing yourself to behave consistent with it, no matter what. This inevitably involves doing things you are not used to doing, you don’t feel comfortable doing, and you don’t enjoy or feel competent doing.

In the health example, this means things like: eating healthy, counting your fat or calories, and going to the gym 4 times a week, rain or shine with no excuses.

In organizational change this means things like: telling the truth about what is not working – including about yourselves, discussing it, promising specific actions to fix it, meeting on a frequent basis to track progress and take accountability, no matter what, listening to others’ feedback, and continuing to identify the next areas for change.

Sustained means staying the course, but not just when you are hoping for change. The most important time is after you already see the benefits of change.

Don’t confuse the talk about commitment and the actions of commitment. Commitment without action is worthless. In fact, it is worse than no commitment at all.

The nature of change is that the minute you stop focusing on and nurturing the source the benefits will cease and you will start declining.

It’s like a flower, the minute you stop watering and nurturing the roots, the flowers will wilt and no new flowers will blossom.

Seems simple enough, right? Leaders understand this conceptually, but most don’t seem to get it or embrace it. That is why the minute they see results and feel good about things they abandon the uncomfortable hard work and start believing that things will stay changed without the rigor, discipline and focus that took them out of their comfort zone but brought them the benefits of change in the first place.

A CEO that I worked with summed it up very eloquently: “Everyone wants the benefits of change, but no one is willing to do what it takes!



If you don’t have goodwill, you don’t have anything

When making agreements with others what is more important, having an ironclad contract or an atmosphere of goodwill to live by?

Obviously, the right answer is “both” However, hypothetically, if you could only have one, which would it be?

Any agreement is only as good as people’s intentions to live by it. That is the reason when there is lack of goodwill people say: “This agreement is not worth the paper it is written on.”

People are so smart. They know how to go through the motions and pretend like they are committed to an agreement while doing the minimum to live by it. They always have excuses and blame circumstances and others for their lack of compliance.

Yes, you could always carry out legal or disciplinary measures if people don’t comply with the written letter. In some situations, especially when you don’t care about a positive future relationship with that person, that may be the right way to go.

However, in a team environment where you still have to work, partner and collaborate with that person the next day, that approach won’t be optimal.

Take for example the story of two senior executives who were the heads of the two most important divisions of a global technology company. Their divisions had to collaborate on a daily basis in order for the company to succeed, but they didn’t. The reason being that the two executives didn’t get along. Needless to say, this caused a great deal of conflict, tension, and dysfunctionality in the company, and it hurt business performance and results.

The executives were intelligent senior people. They understood the negative consequence of the status quo both in terms of undermining results, as well as in the toxic atmosphere it created within their team members. However, they couldn’t get over themselves and their personal issues in order to interact with genuine respect.

They brought in a professional mediator who worked with them for more than a month to write up a contract outlining how they and their respective organizations would behave and treat each other. The mediator pulled teeth to do this, but through sheer determination was able to produce a coherent contract, which both executives signed.

Do you think this ended the issues?

Of course not. The back-stabbing innuendos, lack of sharing information, subtle competition and trashing each other with customers and other undermining behaviors continued. In fact, they were even fiercer.

In contrast, take another two executives in a different company – one was the head of enterprise customers and the other of small business customers. Given the nature of their customers, they had disputes on a regular basis about which customer belonged to each of them and which deal should be counted against each of their sales quotas. But, they never made it or took it personally. They always worked it out. Sometimes one of them won and another time the other did. They kept it as amicable and fair that they could without having anything written between them. They also went out of their way to help and recognize each other. It was 100% goodwill.

When goodwill is 100% authentic it doesn’t matter how detailed or ironclad the contract is. But if you don’t have goodwill at some level it doesn’t matter how clear and detailed the contract is.

So, in conclusion, it is better to have 100% goodwill and 60% ironclad contract, than 100% ironclad contract and 60% goodwill.