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How You Can Build A Self Accountable Team

Sean: It’s interesting. You know, when those things happen, I call it divine appointments. So you can’t explain it. But Steve Jobs said in his speech in Stanford, before he passed away, ” You can only connect the dots, looking back.” Right now I think that’s exactly what you’ve done. You have such an amazing story by the way.

From lawyering to now being a consultant and a coach, and then starting businesses in between experiencing failure and learning from that. And we’re all learning from this. Now I want to talk a little bit about the nitty-gritty. This is where we’re going to get hands on. I saw that your organization, the Nischwitz group, has three foundations of thinking, and I want to kind of peel off some of those things.

Authenticity, accountability, and acceleration. What do these mean? And why is it so important to you?

Jeff: Yeah. You know, when I created those, it was a while ago and they’ve – the meaning has become even more deep for me. And really the acceleration, I believe is the outcome of those two -authenticity and accountability.

I’m going to go in reverse order. I’m going to start with accountability. Accountability is, I believe a largely misunderstood concept. Everybody wants more of it, but they’re not getting it because they’re looking at, I’ll just use the word wrong. Because I constantly hear people in their company saying, I wish I just need to hold my people accountable.

Everybody wants to hold their people accountable. They tell managers, you got to hold your people accountable. And I’m saying, no, actually that’s wrong because if you’re holding people accountable, you’re doing their job for them. What you need is to create a culture of what I call self-accountability and what I’ve learned over the last 10 or 12 years is that everybody thinks they’re incredibly accountable.

And most of us are not accountable at all. That we’re horrible at it, but we think because it feels good. So I’ll say I’m really accountable. And we keep, we have in our finger pointing at other people, you need to be more accountable and you know that same. We all know it. If I point my finger at you, there’s three fingers pointing back at me.

And that’s more true about accountability than anything I’ve ever seen. Because I go into organizations and I’ll, I remember vividly the first time this happened. It was years ago. I’m talking to this team of leaders. I mean, I got 15 people in the room and I’m talking about accountability and most people are listening, but I’m watching the CEO and he’s like rolling his eyes and almost scoffing.

And at one point he stops me because, “well, you know, this is good stuff, but I got to tell you, our organization is really great at accountability already.” Now, if you tell me that, I know you’re not.  Because no one tells you you’re great at something, unless you’re not. We brag on the things we’re not, frankly. That’s what I’ve learned about leaders. And when he said this, I looked around the room and I saw all these heads go down. So after the session I meet with everybody, one-on-one. And I asked all of them. I said, Hey, you know, tell me about accountability. I noticed some faces in there and they all just go, “Oh my God, he’s the worst at it.”

He’s the most unaccountable person here yet. He thinks he’s very accountable. And that’s, you know, this is why a lot of what I talk about is blind spots. Leaders need to understand, they have blind spots, they have gaps, and that’s what the work is about. And they can’t, you can’t work on your blind spots alone.

It is impossible to work on your blind spots alone because we have a false sense of ourselves. You have to have outside help. Now, maybe that’s a coach. I think that’s one of the great jobs of a coach. That’s what I do as a coach. I help leaders identify their blind spots and help them understand why they have them.

And there’s usually a reason and help them get through them. Maybe it’s having just advisors. Maybe it’s just getting your team to give you feedback. But accountability is just atrocious because accountability is the simplest thing on the planet. But because it’s simple, it is challenging because here’s what accountability is about integrity. And it’s, it’s about changing just a couple of words in your business. This is the nitty and gritty right here

Sean, if you want more acceleration, start with accountability. And what that means is you’re going to start using two words, regularly commitment or commit and choices. Because what accountability is about is when I make a commitment to you and I make a personal commitment to you, it’s in the work context, but it’s a personal commitment.

Sean. I commit to get back to you about this issue by three o’clock tomorrow. I don’t say I will get back to you. That sounds the same, but it’s not. There’s something about the word commit and commitment. We don’t make many commitments in our life. Most of the time, the only people who use the word commitment are in relationships, I’m in a committed relationship.

So we don’t even use the word commit. And I do I go in front of audiences and I’ll say, I’ll walk up to someone and say, Hey Sean, can you come to my office? I want to talk to you about a project. Okay. Or Sean, come into my office. I want to talk to you about a commitment on this project. How do they feel different?

They say, wow. The second one feels really more significant. I said, exactly. Your spine kind of went, Oh, because you’re going to listen carefully because you’re not going to make a commitment loosely. And what commitments do is now we’re going to have a conversation about what that commitment looks like.

You’re not giving me orders. You’re not saying, I’m not saying Sean, you know, you’re not saying to me, go get this done by tomorrow. You’re saying more or like, “Hey Jeff, when can you commit to have this done?” Because when we make commitments, now our personal integrity is on the line and most human beings will do whatever it takes to honor that commitment.

But when we use commitment language, we have more open conversations. We have clear expectations, we have agreed upon deadlines, and now I’ve made a commitment to you. I will honor that. And then the magic is when I, if I don’t and it’ll happen, we mess up. We over commit. We have conflicting commitments.

We have family commitments that we didn’t see coming. What do we do then? And the key there is to help people own their choices. To the power question I offer to leaders is this, if someone’s made a commitment, the question you ask, you don’t ever go to someone and say, why didn’t you get this done? You never say that because that’s the worst question on the planet.

That’s what we all do though. We say, “Sean, why didn’t you get this done on time?” And what that really is, is a statement that says, “Hey, can you give me every possible excuse you can think of?” I ran on a time. I had some priorities. I didn’t know. I didn’t plan, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, excuse, excuse, excuse.

The power question is this, if you’ve made a commitment to me, Sean, what I will ask you if you don’t honor it is, “Sean, what did you choose to do instead of honoring this commitment?” And I guarantee you in the beginning, your answer would be why didn’t you do anything. All this stuff happened. But the behavior will continue.

It’ll happen over and over and less people can understand that they did make choices. You know what maybe the choice was that I knew I probably couldn’t do it, but I didn’t push back with you and say, I can’t meet that deadline. I told you I could do something when I hadn’t thought about it. I didn’t start it in time.

Someone else gave me something and I didn’t challenge them and tell them I had this other commitment. Until people can honor and own their choices, the behavior won’t change. So those are some of the foundations of accountability, man. And now when you, if you just listen to that and say, imagine that everybody in your team consistently honors their commitments, they do what they say they’re going to do when they’re going to do it. And when they don’t, they clearly understand what happened that kept them from doing it so they can change it in the future. There’s acceleration right there, explosive acceleration.

And so the authenticity piece comes down to the simple reality that the pillar of leadership is trust. Leadership requires trust, people follow people they trust. And they may do some version of following orders, but that’s not following the person. They follow someone they trust. 

Leaders need to build trust. Too many leaders think they have trust because they got the position and that’s a lie. That’s not true at all. People trust people. And here’s what people trust, people trust people that they know who they are. And that’s why authenticity is so critical.

I got to know who you are and I am most importantly, I have to know that who you say you are is who you really are. And that’s the authenticity. If there’s any difficulty, if there’s any discrepancy, if you say one thing, but you act even a little different people are like, wait a minute. That they’re not who they say they are.

I don’t trust you. And here’s what we know about when people don’t trust others. If I don’t trust my leader, then I don’t feel safe. And if I don’t feel safe, I withhold everything. I withhold engagement. I withhold trust. I withhold cooperation. I withhold ideas. I withhold commitment. I withhold teamwork. I withhold relationships.

That is a simple formula that folks are not thinking about. So authenticity getting clear on who you are, including as a leader, being willing to show those to others and being accountable to yourself so that you continuously walk your own talk. And when you do that, because the accountability creates acceleration, the lack of authenticity is different because if you don’t, if you aren’t authentic, the lack of trust that you breed and feed is like an anchor.

So being authentic, doesn’t actually accelerate you. But what it does is it removes the anchor of mistrust and distrust. So it allows you to accelerate.

Sean: That is amazing. And honestly, I just learned a ton of stuff right there. I’m going to start doing that with using the word commit, I’m guilty as charged.

I asked people why, why weren’t you able to do it? And that’s in the spirit of trying to figure out how to help them become better. But I realize now I’m asking the wrong question because there is a much better question to ask them, making them more accountable, making them own up to it. Thank you for that Jeff.

Now about leadership, and I know you love this topic. You mentioned that your organization is focused on leadership. Now a lot of people know that, but not on a deep level. They’ll just say, yeah, you know, leadership is important for leaders, but you ask them why it’s they have a hard time articulating why?

Now my question to you right now is, why do you think business owners, CEOs should invest in leadership?

Jeff: My most basic answer to that is I believe that leadership is the secret sauce. I believe leadership is the answer to everything. I think we very much misunderstand leadership today.

When I ask people if they know they’re strong leaders, they usually don’t know anybody. They might know one person because what we’ve become, we’ve become a world of managers. And leadership is really simple when you get down to it. Leadership is all about people and it’s about the other. Leadership is about the other versus myself.

So many people are trapped into the idea that leadership is about position, and I think that’s completely wrong. Yes. It’s important for people in positions to exercise strong leadership, but everybody is a leader. I mean, deeply believe that because leadership is not a position, leadership is not a title.

You know, my core belief is that I want to empower people to lead wherever they are, even if they don’t have a position. Even if they don’t have permission to lead. Leadership is a choice we make in a moment, I call them leadership moments. You know, Sean, you’re the, you’re the CEO of your business. You run, you know, you’re the head leader.

But I know for a fact, I don’t even have to look at your day, but I know on a given day you don’t lead much during the day. Most of the day, you’re doing things that are not leadership. Now. Yes, you’re leading by example. If you’re modeling accountability, doing what you say you’re going to do, that’s a form of leadership element, but most of your decisions all day are not leadership.

And at a CEO level, I would hope a lot of it is leadership, but there’s other stuff. You’re just doing stuff. So this is why I’m doing this really well, but that’s not leadership because leadership is how I help make other people better? By you doing a great job on a project. Doesn’t make other people better, except by setting an example of excellence.

I get that, but that’s a trap. How are we helping to grow people around us? How are we empowering people? And so I tell people now when it comes to leadership, there’s leadership moments every day. And let me give you a concrete example that happens in every organization – meetings. We’re terrible at meetings.

You know, I’ve not, I have not yet met a person in all my years that has said “I love our meetings. I feel so empowered by our meetings. I wish we had more meetings.” It’s more like, “Oh God, I got another meeting. We’re terrible at meetings.” And there’s a lot of reasons why this is not about meetings. There’s not, we’re not thoughtful.

We don’t have good agendas. We don’t do them on time. But one of the issues is in meetings. We fully, we don’t understand the purpose of a meeting because here’s what a meeting is not. A meeting is not intended to solve problems. Now that may sound weird, but here’s the thing. Meetings are not intended to solve problems unless that meeting was scheduled to solve that problem.

But all the other problems that bubble up in a meeting, they’re not supposed to be solved in that meeting, unless you can solve them in three minutes or less there for another meeting or another conversation or another group. Maybe a more targeted group, but I call those rabbit holes. So rabbit holes are, “Hey, there’s this other problem?”

Or this is a huge rabbit hole in meetings. Let’s talk about a problem until we, till it dies. Let’s talk the problem to death. Let’s talk about it in 10 straight meetings, but never take action to solve it, but that happens. And we go down these rabbit holes and what happens in the meeting. So let’s say it’s your meeting.

You run this, you’re in charge of this meeting, Sean. And I’m sitting in the meeting and let’s say, there’s a third person. Bob is in this meeting. Well, Bob goes down a rabbit hole, you’re in the meeting and you’re like, Oh my God, I can’t believe Bob went down the rabbit hole. I’m over here saying Bob went down a rabbit hole again.

And now I’m looking at you saying, why aren’t you doing something about it, Sean, this is your meeting. So I’m sitting there and all I’m doing is judging you for not fixing this. I’m judging Bob for going down a rabbit hole, but do I speak up generally now? Why? Cause I haven’t been told it’s okay. Because I feel at risk.

Well, what if you feel like I stepped on your toes? What if Bob thinks I stepped on his toes, but that’s a leadership moment because what leaders do in that moment is they just inject and say, I feel like we got off course. Can we all check in and see if this is where we need to go down this road or get back to our topic. When someone does that, that’s where I pull them aside and say, outstanding job. Thank you for leading. Cause that’s what leadership is. leaders speak up, leaders step in, leaders lean in. Leaders ask questions to help people learn and grow. So you can tell my voice I’m getting amped up. Leadership is the answer. And the biggest problem we have is we’re not even sure how to lead anymore, but we think we’re leading when we’re all we’re doing is managing.

And if your people, if people don’t get better by being around you, then you’re not leading. If you’re not willing to give people high quality and high quantity feedback, then get out of the way and let someone else lead leadership is about growing your people. And with these people together, achieving great things.

That’s what leaders do. And they got to have trust to do it.

Sean: We need to hear that. And you know, it’s funny. I have an episode recorded in the leadership stack podcast where my guest mentioned that a lot of organizations say they need leaders, but what they really want is more managers. It’s so ironic, but what we really need are real leaders moving the team. Because there is that side of leadership that you want to change things, and you’re a visionary and you’re disruptive, but there is also that part of leadership where you’re just making people better, giving more value.

Jeff: Well, that’s interesting that you bring that up and I’m glad you did Sean, because. This is a real shift for people. And I talk a lot about shifts. I called myself a snow globe shaker and a leader of shift. Cause I help people shift perspectives. And you mentioned the word vision, and there’s, if you go Google leadership, you’re going to find tons of lists that say great leaders have vision.

And I would say, that’s not true. What it does is true is that people who are senior leaders in positions of leadership, CEOs, presidents, they need to have vision in order to be an effective leader. But that is not limited there. I know late great leaders who don’t have any vision because their role doesn’t require it.

They’re just incredibly good at what they do. They’re a leader in that and people trust them and follow them and they empower people. They may not have vision. But we have this trap of we, when we think about leadership, we think about the top person. Well, that person needs vision and all these other things, but not everybody needs to have vision to be a great leader.

They just have to have a mission, ideally, a personal mission that says, I want to serve. I want to serve my people. I want to be a servant leader. We’ve been talking about servant leaders for decades now. And on one of our podcasts, one of our guests, Tommy Spalding made this really insightful comment.

He said, Leaders don’t wake up in the morning and say, I’m going to be a jerk today. Most of them don’t. And he said, the statistics are that 90 to 95% of leaders think that they’re servant leaders. But according to their people, only 10% are that’s the blind spot. That’s the gap because they believe they’re doing it because they’re doing what they’ve always done.

And the other insight I will share, one of our guests, Kevin Basic is his name made this observation. He said, when most organizations, when they’re looking at, like you said, people saying, what more leaders. What they look at as high performers, people who are really good at doing their job. So the leader at the top is looking down and what they’re looking for is performers.

So when you’ve got a high performer, we start promoting them into leadership. But we don’t develop them in leadership. We don’t give them tools for leadership. One of the reasons we don’t is we just want them to keep performing. The problem is the people here, the people that we serve are looking up at leaders, not looking for performance.

They’re looking for character. They’re looking for authenticity. They’re looking for someone they can trust who feels like they have their, that leader has their back and cares about them. So what happens when you promote based upon performance? But the elevated leader needs to be someone of character and authenticity, doesn’t work.

You’re going to end up having a bunch of performers. Who’ve never thought about character and authenticity, and it was never demanded of them by the leader. So who failed there? The leader failed because the leader didn’t set clear expectations. The leader didn’t understand what was really needed and what the people needed.

That’s about changing your question. What do my people need to be more successful here? That’s the kind of question leaders ask.

Sean: And, you know, just to add my personal experience because I have had my own mistakes doing that, promoting people, great performers, not good leaders, tendency is they’re gonna create some politics and you’re going to have a difficult time within your team.

So definitely what we need to do is make sure that we build them up, teaching them more and more about leadership, about being other centric and a lot of being team number one.


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