At Dulwich College Suzhou our leadership team have been engaged with a series of workshops to develop capability to best deliver excellence for our students. I will be posting a series of articles related to our sessions detailing important leadership skills and traits to support colleagues.
The articles are based around the premise that it is fundamentally the role of leadership to do two things well. Granted these two things have many moving parts and it takes years to be skilled at all of them but basically school leadership requires.
1. That leaders ensure that their team members know what is required of them and are skilled enough to do it.
2. That leaders hold their team members to account to ensure they fulfil what is required of them to the highest standard.
Today, we continue with a focus on how to engender accountability through conversation and behaviour.
A colleague from Australia, Dr Neil Carrington, tells an apt story about an interaction he had with an airline executive. I borrow this story to share as an analogous cautionary tale for the leadership business of engendering accountability through conversation and behaviour. The airline executive was excitedly telling Neil about how the airline had devised a world's best approach to dealing with lost luggage. Neil helpfully pointed out that perhaps being world's best at not losing luggage might be a better approach.
This example is relevant to engendering accountability through conversation and behaviour because our goal as leaders should never be to be the best leader at holding reactive difficult or challenging conversations. All leaders should possess this skill but the real goal should be to engender accountability in others through proactive conversations and behaviours so that the reactive conversation/action is only very rarely required.
Stop trying to find the luggage after it's lost - try not to lose it in the first place!
To engender accountability in your team
Set expectations – dates, actions, details. Ensure clarity of tasks and roles, actions, be explicit about the team member’s role. Keep minutes of meetings where expectations are defined. Use email to share expectations so that a record is kept
Establish a culture of feedback – early. Explicitly tell people what to expect from you and how you will lead them. Often leaders tell others what they expect of them but don't reciprocate
Assure people in person that they will be trusted but verified. Explain that meetings will require evidence of output and outcomes. This means that when you meet with them you will expect them to show you progress of attainment of tasks. Then let them get on with it
Be clear about consequence and rewards. Nobody likes surprises at work
Relax but maintain standards. Being overly officious is not helpful
Ensure communication lines are open – make sure people know how to communicate with you – not just practically but relationally. This means you need to be explicit about what and how they should communicate with you. If you don't like pop ins to your office and prefer memos then people won't know this unless you tell them.
- Explicitly share that you give your team permission to give you feedback. Some team members will be scared of doing so without assurances, and then evidence that this is a safe practice. If you want them to be accountable for their areas of responsibility, then you must model appropriately transparent leadership.