It’s both a dangerous and ridiculous assumption to believe that because someone has a leadership title—or is in a leadership position—he or she is leading. Often, as prosperity rises urgency falls, and those who are paid to lead start to maintain and become caretakers. Where they once charted the course, impacted people, and built strong cultures, they instead: chart results, administer people, and leave culture up for grabs. We’re all likely to get off track in our leadership responsibilities from time to time; but, if we want to continue to grow, we need to increase our leadership awareness and endeavor to get off track less often, and to stay off track for less time when we do. In the event you’ve gotten off track, or know someone that has, here are four steps to start leading again.

Clarify, or redefine performance expectations.

When leaders stop leading, what they expect from others performance-wise often fades, or is conveniently forgotten. As a result, performance stagnates. It’s always useful to ensure that performance expectations in each department—and for each team member—are resolutely clear to increase daily focus and provide a benchmark for accountability.

To maximize focus, accountability, and performance, expectations should include a blend of monthly outcome requirements, as well as the key daily activities required in each position that are most predictive of these outcomes. Here are some examples of basic clarity you can’t focus on enough:

  • Clear monthly outcome expectations.
  • The essential daily, weekly, and monthly actions that are most predictive of creating the desired monthly outcome.
  • Core values: are they clear enough; are people living them and being held accountable for them?
  • Are all of the above in writing, talked about often, and signed off on by each team member to affirm their understanding of what performance success looks like in your department?

If you’re not sure whether your performance expectations in these regards are clear enough, they are not; and, if you are concerned you may talk about them too much or make too big a deal out of their importance, rest assured that you can’t. They are THAT important to leading effectively. 

Go to work each day with the goal of impacting people.

If you’re not leaving people better than you find them, you may be maintaining them, but you can’t claim to be leading them. Through coaching, feedback, training, mentoring, and holding them accountable, a leader’s role is to take the human capital he or she is entrusted with and make it more valuable.

When leaders get so busy with the daily fray—the “stuff”—that they start skipping training meetings and one-on-one coaching sessions—and aren’t in the trenches enough to offer meaningful feedback on performance—morale, momentum, and results all take a hit. Three questions to ask as you begin the day are:

  • Who can I positively impact today with knowledge, encouragement, or feedback?
  • How can I act as a catalyst and get things started early today?
  • What can I do to focus the team and bring them together today?

Stop making excuses for non-performance.

Taking personal responsibility and focusing on what you can control each day is contagious; unfortunately, so are: blaming, making excuses, and wasting energy on external conditions you can’t affect.

Over the years I’ve heard leaders say hundreds of times, “I want to lead by example.” Sure. But the fact is that everyone leads by example; the question is whether the example is good or bad. Frankly, if you lie, cheat, and steal you are leading by example—a horrendous one. And making excuses for non-performance follows closely behind in terms of the damage it does to your team, your personal credibility, and results overall. Consider these three points concerning excuses:

  • They are the DNA of underachievers. It’s something all people who miss their potential by a mile have formed the habit of making in order to explain away their outright failure or lack of greater success.
  • If you make excuses a little, your team will make them a lot. This is how leadership works: the great things you do in excess, a team is likely to emulate in moderation; but the wrong things you do in moderation, they are likely to emulate in excess.
  • One of the best days of your life is when you give up excuses, take responsibility for your results and your life, and invest your time and energies into the aspects of your job you can control.

Accelerate accountability throughout your culture.

When leaders stop leading, poor performance perpetuates, and the culture is weakened through failed accountability. When people aren’t held accountable for what you’re paying them to do, entitlement rises, performance falls, and culture rots. Accountability keeps people sharp and focused, and is essential to helping them grow. Consider these six points on accelerating accountability throughout your culture:

  • Ambiguity is the enemy of accountability. Thus, until you pay attention to the first point in this piece, accountability isn’t going to be effective or even possible in most cases.
  • Fast feedback on great or poor performance is essential to accountability, and eliminates the gray areas that tend to dominate weaker cultures where people have become accustomed to doing just enough to get by.
  • The goal of accountability is to prevent termination, not increase it. In fact, a key reason people are fired eventually is because they weren’t held accountable for results or behaviors for so long, that they are too far off track to be salvaged.
  • Accountability should include consequences; otherwise, all you have is more hot air, empty threats, and lost respect. The premise is simple: if you want to change a behavior, you have got to change the consequence for that behavior.
  • The sole objective of a consequence is to improve performance; it should never be to humiliate.
  • People should be held accountable as soon after a performance failure as possible, because delayed consequences lose their impact. Do it quickly, professionally, and humanely.

If you care about people you will hold them accountable. In fact, I’ll conclude this piece with a three-point mantra I teach attendees in my workshops, which explains our tough-love role in leading people:

  1. I’m hard on you because I believe in you.
  2. I hold you accountable because I care.
  3. I stretch you so you never have to regret giving less than your best.

That being said, if it’s time for you to start leading again, you know where to start…so get after it.

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Comment by Donnie Goertzen on September 12, 2016 at 10:59am

I needed this today...hope it inspires you also!

Comment by DealerELITE on August 27, 2016 at 8:27am
Dave, this is an excellent article thank you for sharing with all DE members


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