I was talking to a leader this week about starting in a new role and how they were winning over their new team. It all sounded like it was going to plan until she explained an exercise where her team were all given a task and a deadline. The outcome was that only 50% of the team completed the task on time and only one person completed the task successfully and on time. What did you do? I asked. “Oh I just moved the deadline and gave them some extra time to complete the task” she said. Warning! This is dangerous ground for any leader and especially for a new leader. It speaks volumes about the teams understanding (or lack of) accountability and also could be the beginning of the end, in terms of gaining respect for their leader.
Quickly gaining the respect of a new team is critical to leadership success and very few leaders consistently achieve it through an ultimate desire to please, or reverting to management by fear, or by having unclear boundaries and expectations.
To earn respect and create clear accountability a leader needs to:
- Communicate clearly – how have you communicated your requests? Verbally, via email, in a group meeting or one on one? Have you been clear about what the task is, what the outcome looks like and the timeframe you expect? Often employees miss deadlines not because they disrespect their manager, but because the manager has not been clear in communicating the task upfront. A good technique here is to “check back” with your staff – ‘what is your understanding of this request?’. Always walk away being clear that you have the same understanding and agreement about the what, why and when. This way there can be no excuses or misunderstandings when deadlines aren’t met.
- Stick to the original plan – like the new leader I mentioned, how many times have you diverted from an original deadline with your team because it’s just easier to do so? You can’t be bothered having the conversation and hearing the excuses about why they haven’t done what they said they would do. Easier right? Wrong! You are actually making it harder for yourself and creating future problems as you are essentially saying ‘don’t worry, ignore my deadlines as I will just give you an extension and it will be okay”. This response will guarantee that your team won’t ever take your deadlines seriously as they know you won’t hold them to account and are ok for things to slide.
- Consequences – are your team clear what happens if they do miss a deadline you have set? What are the consequences? Are there any? You are in very dangerous territory in terms of gaining respect and developing accountability if there isn’t any. Do they need to stay back late, do they miss out on the opportunity to be involved, do you lock the door once a meeting starts? I had a client last month who needed a 1 page contribution from every team member for a presentation. She continued to chase, nag and demand from the one team member who missed the deadline and finally got it the night before, which meant she had to stay up late and collate and modify the presentation to ensure it was included. I challenged her – why did you do this? Why didn’t you just leave his contribution out? She stared at me shocked – I couldn’t do that she said. Why not? Then he would be left out – exactly! A consequence! How would that make him feel I asked? She considered this – embarrassed and left out. Sometimes, people need to feel the consequences and cost of their behavior to change and you as the leader need to be strong enough to enforce it.
- Coaching – my preference is to coach people ‘up’ to gain the desired behaviour rather than the big stick approach of when something goes wrong. This means taking the time as a leader to address the situation and behaviour i.e.: deadlines being missed or ignored. Sit down with your employee and really explore, with good intent, the HOW they missed the deadline. This can be a very interesting conversation where you will learn where their system of meeting deadlines is actually ineffective. Did they not understand the original request (a communication check for you)? Did they not know what to do? Did they not have the skills or knowledge to complete the request ie: is it a training issue? Or was it that they aren’t using a to do list to prioritise their workload? In my experience, people don’t miss deadlines on purpose. Ultimately people want to perform and do a good job, so it is an opportunity for you as a leader to help improve their performance and lift the bar of their success. A powerful conversation where you both benefit – they gain a new system to help improve their performance and you are the inspiring leader who is assisting them to get there (added benefit for you is no more nagging!).
There is no easy road to gaining respect – you can’t demand it, and you can’t ask for it. You can only create it through clear communication, discipline and holding people to account. This does not make you a nag, nor does it mean you are demanding – you are simply being clear in your expectations and being consistent with what you say – a true leader. Don’t miss such a valuable opportunity as when you are starting a new role with a new team – get it right from day one and you will create a team of high achieving and engaged employees who know where they stand.
“Leaders get the team they deserve”