Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more; access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path. So join your host Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experiences, and accelerate your journey to leadership excellence.
Hey there, and welcome to episode 27 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. This week's episode, Unleashing the Power of your People: How empowerment and support drive results. We spoke about execution for results in episode 19, which if you haven't yet listened to, is really worth going back to check out. That episode focused on how single point accountability is the most critical factor in being able to successfully execute on your plans. This episode is really a de facto part two of that discussion, as it deals with empowerment. And this is the flip side of the accountability coin. Accountability and empowerment should be inseparable, but often leaders don't understand that. Let's face it, execution is tough, but there are a few secrets that aren't often spoken about. We're going to unpack those today.
So we're going start with a quick flyover the top of what accountability is, just as a refresher. We'll talk about why culture matters so much. And then finally, I'm going to let you know how to support and enable your people to execute at their best. So let's get into it.
When we strip it back to its most fundamental elements, execution is all about clarity of purpose, and clear accountability for decision making to drive ultimate delivery of objectives. One head to pat, one ass to kick. But many organisations lack a strong culture of accountability to enable capable execution. Organisations with weak accountability stand out and they exhibit some really worrying symptoms. Things like unclear decision rights, and decisions by consensus. Management by committee. Lots of meetings, no outcomes. Inability to respond quickly to a changing environment. And all care, no responsibility attitude in the people, and in the broader culture. Lack of underlying empowerment. If any of these ring a bell, just take a moment to reflect because the difference between high and low accountability cultures is sometimes subtle. It's the difference between involvement and commitment, and sometimes the people can be deeply involved without feeling committed to the outcomes.
It's the difference between standing on the sideline watching the game and being on the field playing it. This might sound obvious, but the first thing about accountability is to get people to accept they are actually on the field. The world is full of armchair quarterbacks, as I like to call them, who throw empty beer cans at their flat screen TVs on a Sunday afternoon, when the guys on the field don't meet the spectators' expectations. So as I said, take a few minutes to reflect on what level of accountability you have in your team, and in the broader organisation that you work for. There will be an overarching culture that comes from the top, and there'll also be many variants of this throughout a large organisation, depending on the philosophy, skill, and commitment of each leader that occupies the levels. Ultimately, weak accountability leaders need to be weeded out.
Crystal clear accountability is the key to successful execution. Everyone needs to know who's accountable for delivering every single outcome, and how they fit into this. Now, quite often you'll see this described in something like a RACI matrix, and RACI is an acronym that stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. And RACI matrices are particularly useful in projects where there are specific tasks and deliverables that are identified on a work breakdown structure, so you can very clearly allocate people to various tasks, and say who's accountable for it, and who's going to be involved around that in terms of responsible, consulted, and informed.
The accountable person has to know what they're accountable for, and where their boundaries are. But then the accountable person has to be supported by their boss, with some enabling factors. And that's what this episode is about. Because accountability without empowerment and support, is the ultimate cruelty. It creates a culture of suspicion, and avoidance, and that's the antithesis of what you're trying to create as a great leader.
Let's move on to culture, and why culture is so important. You may have heard me say before, ‘leadership drives culture, and culture drives performance’. In fact, this is the topic of my signature keynote address, because it encapsulates so concisely what we're ultimately trying to achieve as leaders. The primary function of a leader is to create and maintain a culture that is conducive to excellence in the performance of their team. The ideal high performance constructive culture will have a number of elements, which vary from organisation to organisation, of course. In a healthy culture, these key elements will strike the balance between aligning the interests of your people with the interests of the organisation.
Now the DNA of a high performing culture that immediately springs to mind for me are things like'; strong accountability, appropriate empowerment and support at the right levels, a quest for ‘excellence over perfection’, robust and respect for challenge of people and teammates, achievement orientation, people always seeking to be their best, and a collaborative working environment, which doesn't mean everyone has a vote in decisions, single point accountability still has to prevail. As a leader, you've got to be serious about culture, and unfortunately, I know so many senior leaders in organisations who just don't take it seriously enough.
By serious, I mean that the culture has to be measured, and the leaders throughout the organisation made accountable for improving the climate indicators in their teams that will improve the culture. Remember, what gets measured, gets managed, and what gets rewarded gets done. So if you aren't doing this as a leader, your culture is going to be whatever it is. You have no control over it.
So let's move on to how you support and enable your people to execute. Or, as the more touchy feely of us like to call it, setting up your people for success. So I've got nine things here. Number one, give your people context. They need to understand a little bit about the big picture. So that starts with the organisation's purpose and strategy. Now, if you didn't set it, it's your job to understand how the work of your team fits into it. That's the least you have to do as a leader. So don't go blindly executing a bunch of activity without first being clear yourself, and then being able to give your team clarity on this. How does what I'm asking you to do fit into the big picture? That's something you should have clearly and crisply in your head, so that you can describe it to anyone in your team that has taken on accountability for delivering outcomes.
Number two, provide extreme clarity on goals and objectives. Now I chose that adjective carefully. Extreme clarity. This was traditionally a weak area for me personally because of my preference to stay at a higher level, and to not dive into the detail. And although this is a good place to start from, so of course I've never been accused of being a micromanager, it doesn't mitigate the need to be on top of things closely enough to really drive execution through your accountable people. So I had to learn to strike the right balance, and that only really came for me in the last seven or eight years of what was a much lengthier career.
So, let's just think about that for a minute. For the first half of my C-level career, I wasn't as good at executing as I should have been. Admittedly, back then there was no No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast to give me practical advice, but you guys have no excuse for not getting after this starting from today. You need to make it clear to your people exactly what you want. Exactly. Not just what and when, but you need to go a little bit deeper than that. What's the required level of quality in the task you're sending them away to be accountable for? What's the importance of the output to the current goals of the team in the organisation? Where does it fit in? What does the ultimate stakeholder group require from this, and who are the key stakeholders you want them to pay attention to?
There also has to be a really clear path to being able to see the value creation at the end of whatever the initiative, project, or activity is. Because that's the name of the game. Creating value by executing the right things efficiently and effectively.
Number three, clear the decks. If you are counting on people to be successful, they need to feel as though they have permission to prioritise, and to work on the things that add the greatest value. It's a very common leadership mistake to fill your subordinate's work loads. Either because there's so much to do, or you're getting pressure from above to deliver more than you're resourced to deliver. I talk in other episodes about the discipline of ranking your workload from one to eight, or 1 to 312, however many initiatives you have, but this is very, very different to prioritising. Have you ever had one of your people say to you, “I have six priority ones, and they're all equally important?”.
Well, that's just bullshit. There's always gonna be something that's more important than something else. And unless you go through the discipline of ranking those things, you'll never know what you can drop off the back end. And so everything overwhelms and swamps people's workloads so that they don't know what they're doing, and they deliver everything poorly. That's all I'm going to say on this for now, but for the moment, I just want you to realise that the workaholic overload culture will get you nowhere. People run around like headless chooks running from emergency to emergency without delivering on the key priorities.
As I used to say often as CS Energy, an organisation that's really comfortable in an emergency is normally the mark of a poorly managed business. People love the adrenalin of the ‘all hands to the pump’ situations. They love the challenge of problem solving. They love the kudos that inevitably comes at a crisis well handled, or a disaster mitigated. And I don't think it's too cynical an observation to say that some people just love the overtime payments. Well-managed organisations avoid the vast majority of crises and emergencies before they occur. So when they do happen, on the very odd occasion, people are genuinely taken aback. And they have to pull out the procedures manual to work out how to progress.
The big advantage, however, is that well managed organisations normally have strong accountability and performance cultures, which enable a much better performance in a crisis situation, despite not handling many of them.
Number four, provide resources. And you provide resources as agreed with your accountable people. In episode 19, we spoke about the process of ensuring that the right resources are made available for your people to ensure they can successfully deliver. And this is where you have to push your people to be adults. They have to be able to vie for scarce organisational resources. And to do this, they have to be able to articulate how the application of any resources be it capital, human, physical, intellectual, and so forth, lead to the creation of value through the delivery of their work. Because the only thing I know for sure about your organisation is that you don't have enough people, time, or money to do all the things you want to do. So you’ve got to make some choices.
Number five, push decision making authority down to the lowest practical level. We know that decisions are best made by the people closest to the action. Just a little caution on this one, though. Don't give people accountability that's clearly above their pay grade. You've got to balance this with the authority and accountability of a leader to ensure that they aren't trying to divest themselves of accountability by duck shoving it to one of their team. This happens in one on one conversations. The right people at the front line should have some control, but be supported by decisions from their direct manager. It's a tricky area, so you need to play with this one a little in your specific context.
Number six, in supporting and empowering your people, be available. I can't tell you the number of leaders who I've seen fail here. Not making yourself available for your people makes them feel as though they are on their own. They will be suspicious of any accountability that comes their way, because they'll never be entirely sure if you'll support them when the shit hits the fan, or whether you'll throw them to the wolves. We'll have a little bit more on this later.
Number seven, set up appropriate checkpoints and reviews. Regular checks on deliverables help your people get into the rhythm of accountability and understanding what you want. It gives you an opportunity to fine tune on the way through, and give your people the guidance that's likely to make them more successful. People won't necessarily bring you their problems for a whole range of reasons. But you can elicit that information, and find where their hotspots are by asking some very non-confrontational, open ended questions, and really listen to the response.
Number eight, challenge, coach, confront. I talk about this all the time. And this is about being connected, empathetic, and aware of where your people are at. It's about giving them the opportunity to be their best, and thereby deliver the best outcomes for your organisation. And it starts by setting high standards. This is done through dozens of conversations, formal and informal, with every individual, to let them know what you're after, both the what and the how. It's critical that you expect great performance and behaviour from everyone, and stretch them to their limits. Help them to work on and develop the things that are gonna make them even better.
Now this, in my experience, is what will make your people truly happy in the long term, as they can overcome challenges, achieve difficult goals, and feel as though they are genuinely making a difference, not just cranking the handle. If you didn't manage to catch this when it was released, it's worth going back and having a listen to episode 8 of No Bullsh!t Leadership, Are Happy Workers Productive Workers? And actually, one of my favourite quotes from a listener came from this particular episode. Steen Bisgaard made a comment on the morale of troops in the military. He said, "Soldiers with high morale are not happy; they are confident, secure, and enabled to perform. They're not well fed, rested, and kept out of harm's way." And this is what we mean when we say, stretch people to be their best, let them have impact, and they will thrive in that environment.
Finally, number nine, have your people's backs. People need to know that they operate in a safe environment. That's why they're gonna take chances and put their necks on the block. You will take ultimate accountability for everything that happens on your watch, and this means both structurally, the organisational hierarchy below you, and also any cross function initiatives that you are accountable to deliver. As John Maxwell says, "A leader takes a little bit less than her share of the credit, and a little bit more than her share of the blame."
But interestingly, this is not unconditional. The individuals still have an onus to perform and behave to their best. So for example, you don't step in front of a bullet for someone who's choosing to behave badly. You don't step in front of a bullet for someone who chooses to ignore your guidance, advice, and direction. And you certainly don't step in front of a bullet for someone who's not operating honestly and with integrity. The last thing you want to do is make having your people's backs so unconditional, that your people don't feel accountable for their own choices. So just watch out for that one.
Paradoxically, despite this, as the leader you're still accountable for that behavioural performance. If you don't have the right people in your team, and don't set the right culture, well guess who's fault that is?
Alright, that brings us to the end of episode 27. To pick up the free download, Nine Ways to Empower and Support Your People, go to www.yourceomentor.com/episode27.
Thanks so much for joining us again, and remember that at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. So if you liked this episode, please subscribe to the podcast through your favourite app, give it a rating, and write a quick review so that we can reach even more leaders. I look forward to next week's episode, ‘Your Peers are Really Smart Too’.
Until then I know you'll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t leader!