Don’t let collaboration cloud accountability.

Collaboration is the name of the game in business today.  We all know that two heads are better than one, and three heads are better than two.  That said, many organizations have taken the idea to an extreme, creating needless chaos and conflict.

In the spirit of collaboration, many bosses hesitate to specify who is in charge of a project.  They assign co- or tri-leaders, or they “empower” a team to self-lead.  As great as this sounds on paper, it usually falls short in reality.  When there is a difference in opinion or an impasse, who makes the call?  If a teammate is not delivering on commitments, who has the ability to take action?  If teammates perceive that they have the same responsibilities and are stepping on one another’s toes, who clears up the confusion?

We see it every day with our clients:  when multiple people are in charge, no one is.  For sure, collaboration is a beautiful thing, and necessary for business success.  But not at the expense of accountability and clarity on roles and responsibilities.  We believe the more effective model is to hold team leaders and project managers accountable for fostering collaboration within their teams --- and collaborating effectively across functional lines --- while maintaining a clear understanding of who is ultimately responsible for the outcome.

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Help others help you!

No leader is successful without the help and support of others.  Your job is to inspire others to invest themselves and go the extra mile for you and the organization.  Just because you are the boss and have positional power over others, it doesn’t mean they will always give it their all.

Here are some tips to help others help you!  

Give clear direction up front, instead of making people second-guess what you want or expect.  This will vastly improve the quality of the end result, and the speed with which it is delivered.

Communicate directly instead of having others channel your messages.  Too much gets lost in translation, and middle-men often wield power and agendas that are not always obvious to you.

Choose your words carefully. You might be exhausted, stressed or annoyed, but beware of expressing your frustration too liberally, especially with people deeper in the organization.  A moment of chiding can have an intensely demotivating impact.

Remember the domino effect. However hard you are working, chances are that those under you are working even harder. If you sneeze, your people catch a cold.  Impact of your actions reverberates.

Keep your “say” aligned with your “do.” Nothing undermines people’s faith like a “say-do gap.”  Before you make a commitment, promise, or express an expectation, ask yourself if you are holding yourself to the same standard. 

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Clarity is key.

In this world of constant change and redefinition, dealing with ambiguity has become a critical capability for leaders and their teams.  Indeed, we need to find ways to forge ahead with confidence, even when the sands are shifting beneath our feet.

That said, too often, leaders use this as an excuse for not communicating clearly or giving clear direction.  Instead of the boss owning responsibility for these things, fingers are often pointed at employees for not being able to perform in ambiguous situations.

Setting clear direction and communicating crisply and clearly, even in murky situations, is an essential responsibility of leadership.  When people aren’t sure of what’s being asked of them, or their accountabilities are fuzzy, it slows them down – or paralyzes them entirely.  They are afraid to make a mistake, go in the wrong direction, or step on others’ toes.  This drives down productivity and morale, and increases costs to the organization.

If you are hesitant to give clear direction to your team because you’re unsure of the broader strategy, take the initiative to clarify it for yourself so you can clearly communicate it to the troops.  If the organization’s strategy is in flux, then break things down into smaller, shorter-term pieces and direct your team to work on those things.  Clarity is key.  The clearer you are, the greater the chances your team will meet or exceed your expectations and feel better about their work.

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When you’ve done wrong, apologize!

In our everyday business and personal lives, there are countless ways we can make mistakes that hurt our relationships.  We drop the ball on a commitment; violate a confidence; say or do something offensive.  And the list goes on.

As human beings, we are not perfect.  These moments will inevitably occur.  The more important question is: when they do happen, how do you respond?

It’s staggering how reluctant people can be (leaders especially) to take responsibility for these kinds of mistakes and apologize swiftly and sincerely.  Pride, ego, and fear of being viewed as weak often get in the way.  Before you know it, the moment has passed, you’ve avoided the conversation and moved on.  But the other person hasn’t. Ditch the notion that an apology is a sign of weakness. Indeed, it takes strength to own your mistakes, and it helps strengthen your relationships and your character when you take this important step.

There is a right and wrong way to apologize.  Saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way” suggests they are the one with the problem.  The right way is to own it and express sincere regret for the damage done. People are by nature forgiving. When they believe your apology is authentic, you will most likely be forgiven.  On the flip side, an insincere apology will exacerbate the situation. 

Today, ask yourself, “is there anyone in my life who deserves an apology?”

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Develop an attitude of gratitude.

There is a “gratitude movement” brewing; an emerging realization that by actively appreciating the good things, we can transform our lives, relationships and careers.  It’s so easy and (unfortunately) natural for us to focus on what’s wrong…what’s missing…what needs to change.  

As we move into a new year, consider the possibility that life --- your job, your team, your marriage, your company – may have a plethora of positives that are hidden beneath the shadows; positives that when recognized and verbalized, can change your outlook and your relationships.

I am not suggesting turning a blind eye to issues that need attention, but more equal “air play” of the good stuff.  A better balance.

When was the last time you told a direct report, boss, friend, spouse or child what you appreciate about them?  How often do you intentionally take stock of the blessings in your life? Just the act of doing these simple things can shift your perspective as well as your mood.

As you relate to the world – your world – as a happier, more grateful human being, you will see that others relate to you differently.  As a leader, you can set a new tone of positivity that can energize and motivate your troops.

Begin your journey of gratitude today. Reach out to 5 people (a mix of personal and professional), and tell them what you appreciate about them.  See how you feel….and how they react!  

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