Persistence: How to Balance Accountability and Kindness
“I don’t want to hear your excuses. Rules are rules!”
“Sometimes you just have to bring the hammer down.”
“If you don’t show them who’s boss, they’ll walk all over you.”
Of course it’s OK to want people to take responsibility. Resorting to authoritarian and adversarial tactics like threats, intimidation, guilt, blaming, and verbal abuse might get compliance in the short term, but over time the results are disastrous to morale, productivity, and engagement.
A recent New York Times article titled “The Bad Behavior of Visionary Leaders” asserted that business icons like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos are no doubt geniuses, but that their leadership style was not solely responsible for their success.
Joel Dobbs, a talent development expert, comments on the article;
“The question their management style raises is not whether being tough, harsh and relentlessly demanding gets people to work better. Of course it doesn’t, and certainly not sustainably. Can anyone truly doubt that people are more productive in workplaces that help them to be healthier and happier?
The more apt question is how much more these men could have enhanced thousands of people’s lives – and perhaps made them even more successful — if they had invested as much in taking care of them as they did in conceiving great products.”
Many leaders make it a habit of resorting to the drama role of Persecutor to get what they want. There’s an alternative that can inspire accountability and performance without being a jerk. It’s called Persistence, the third skill set for Compassionate Accountability®, the process of generating results while preserving the dignity of all involved.
Persistence is about follow-through on promises, commitment to boundaries, adherence to standards, perseverance towards goals, and the discipline of optimism. These can all be done in compassionate ways. Compassion means “to co-suffer”. We call it “struggling with.” Persistence is the process of struggling alongside others to uphold what is important.
Here are three strategies to develop persistence.
Apologizing is about owning up to your drama-based behaviors. No excuses. No minimizing. Good apologies show that you understand what you did, how it impacted others, and that you are genuinely sorry for that negative impact.
Apologizing isn’t about throwing yourself under the bus. If you victimize yourself with persecutory self-statements, you are in drama and have not preserved your own dignity. If you make excuses or sidestep responsibility, you are in drama as well. Finally, apologizing leads to a commitments of what you are willing to do to make things right. What will you do differently next time? What will you do to help heal the damage?
Example of a good apology;
I feel embarrassed about how I spoke to you at staff meeting. I know that it was disrespectful and invited others to question your integrity. I am sorry. You have my promise that it will not happen again. I am open to hearing your perspective and suggestions on what I can do to earn your trust back.
Boundaries are the non-negotiables of our lives. These are the lines we do not want to cross. They might be personal values we strive to uphold, rules of engagement in a team, or performance goals for employees. Reinforcing boundaries means being explicit about what they are, letting people know, and sharing how specific behavior compares, without attack, blame or guilt.
What are your non-negotiables? Are you clear with yourself and others about them? How do you let people know when behavior crosses the line? What are you willing to do to pursue a re-alignment?
Example of reinforcing boundaries
I am uncomfortable with this conversation because we agreed not to talk about other teammates when they are not here. Will you please refrain from bring this up when Bill is not around? I won’t discuss this further in private. And, you can count on me to share my perspective if you bring it up in team meeting like we promised.
Finish what you start. Keep your promises. Walk the walk. Simple words, difficult to do. It requires discipline to keep going when distractions and obstacles come up.
Your commitment to a goal is evidenced by how tenacious you are in finding ways to see it through, and how well you influence those around you to keep moving forward.
This is why I believe optimism is a persistent skill. It requires intensive focus and discipline to stay positive, visualize success, and believe in the dream. Of course, follow through doesn’t mean “at all costs,” especially when those costs include steamrolling everyone around you. There is nothing noble about seeing a bad plan all the way through to completion. Be very afraid of someone who says, “It may not be working, but at least I’m not a quitter.”
Collectively, the skills of persistence foster an environment of consistency where people know what to expect.
There is so much more! I invite you to subscribe to my blog and join the conversation.
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