When Your Responsibility Is Holding Others Responsible

Find out who’s naughty and nice.

In “The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus,” Eric Harney talks about Igor, one of Santa’s first elves at the North Pole. Igor was “nice” when he first started to work for Santa, but things slowly began to change.  Igor would occasionally start his shift a few minutes late and take a bit longer to return from breaks.

Santa, the boss, didn’t say anything because he thought, “I’ll let it slide because he does good work … or … It’s no real problem right now.  But if it becomes one, you’ll bet I’ll act.”  But deep down, Santa knew he was just too chicken to confront Igor and his tardiness.  After all, Santa wanted everything to be “nice.”  That was mistake #1 — overlooking Igor’s tardiness, hoping it would magically go away on its own.

It didn’t.  It continued.  Then, instead of talking to Igor, Santa sent out a memo to the entire staff reminding them of the importance of being on time.  Mistake #2.  Santa hoped Igor would “get the message” and correct his problem.  He didn’t.  And all the other elves were left wondering why they got a memo about something they were already doing.

Igor’s problems continued. Santa looked for every excuse to avoid a confrontation.  Mistake #3.

But the issue came to a head when one of the elves asked Santa, “When are you gonna do something about Igor?  His being late all the time is really unfair to the rest of us.”

The elf was right.  Santa knew he had to do something, and he was angry that Igor had put him in this position. So he called Igor into the office and really let him have it.  Mistake #4.  Now they were both angry, and the tension was high.

Then Igor asked Santa, “If this issue is so important, why didn’t you say something to me sooner?”  Good question.  And it’s the same question YOU need to answer if you’re ever going to lead anyone.

As a leader, it is YOUR responsibility to hold others responsible.  So let me suggest a few ways to deal with those who are naughty and nice.

=>  1.  Confront performance problems early on.

When Igor asked, “Why didn’t you say something to me sooner?” Santa didn’t have a good answer.  All he had was excuses — the same type of excuses he wouldn’t accept from others.  Santa had been unfair to Igor and the other elves.  By not saying anything, Santa was as much to blame for Igor’s continuing performance problem as Igor was.

The point is simple … when you see a problem, you’ve got to deal with it early on.  And then …

=>  2.  Tell the truth … without sugar coating it.

Richard Hamermesh wrote in “Fad-Free Management,”  “Failure to honestly critique an employee’s performance hurts the company and the employee.”  No one benefits.  Glossed-over feedback is not “nice” and is not helpful.

In Harvard’s case study of Continental Can’s White Cap Division, the new president Peter Browning was dismayed to learn that his lowest ranked manager had been rated as “above average” for years.  The other managers found it easier to give him a good rating than tell the truth — even though they did respect this particular non-performing manager.

When Browning told the low-ranked manager the truth, the manager was shocked and dubious.  He checked it out for himself.  He came back to Browning saying, “What is more disturbing than the feedback itself is that no one over the past 18 years had ever mentioned any of these problems to me.”

Andy Pearson helped turn PepsiCo around by getting people to tell the truth.  When he first came on board, he found a long record of only positive performance reviews.  So he instructed his department heads to RANK ORDER their staff, from top to bottom — rather than give them all fours or fives in every category.

“As harsh as it was,” Hamermesh says, “it transformed the performance review process and improved the frank exchange between supervisors and subordinates.”

=>  3.  Use some spectatoring to reduce defensiveness.

When I say “tell the truth … without sugar coating it,” make sure you understand me.  I am advocating openness, honesty, directness, and assertiveness.

I am NOT advocating harshness, cruelty, or mean-spirited communication.  You don’t have that right to talk that way.  No one does.  Besides that, it doesn’t work anyway.

Now it may be difficult for some people to accept your openness, honesty, directness and assertiveness.  They’ve never been given that kind of feedback before.  They’re used to reading between the lines, indirect put downs, or character-deflating criticism.  And so they get defensive.  They shut down rather than “hear” the feedback and make the necessary changes.

In those cases, try spectatoring.  Steven Stowell and Matt Starcevitch talk about that in their book, “Win-Win Partnerships.”

Spectatoring is simply giving feedback from a third person’s point of view.  Talk about how a third person might see the behavior and what he/she might suggest.  That takes away all the personal, me-against-you stuff.

Take Bob, for example.  He likes to pretend he’s a sports car driver, and he likes to push his car to the limits … going as fast as he can … darting in and out of traffic.  And no amount of “constructive criticism” from his wife got him to change his behavior.

Then, one day as he was driving like a maniac, his wife put a hand on his shoulder and calmly whispered, “Bob, your daughter is watching you very carefully right now.”  His daughter didn’t hear … as she was getting into the thrill of fast driving.  After all she was just two years from getting a driver’s license and looked forward to driving the same way.

It was a powerful spectatoring message.  Bob said his wife’s words resonated in his mind for weeks.  Nothing else needed to be said.  From then on he drove more slowly and more responsibly.

=>  4.  Use yourself as an example.

No one likes to be told they’re wrong.  But Roger Harrison found that he could be straight forward with colleagues at Yale … and still maintain warm relations with them … if he framed his feedback as a description of something he had learned about himself.  Harrison talked about it in his book, “Consultant’s Journey.”

For example, when Roger wanted to tell another professor to slow down when he was lecturing, Roger said, “You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to learn that if I stopped talking and waited for a response after making my first point, I had people’s attention when I went on.  I used to string my points together, one after the other, but people became so full of their unspoken rejoinders that they couldn’t hear what I was saying.”

By applying to himself the feedback he wanted to share, Harrison saved face for his colleagues.  No one came across as “holier than thou.”

Well, there’s four tips you can use to deal with those who are naughty and nice.  If you really want to dig in and master the skills of leadership, you should take a look at my program entitled “Peak Performance:  Motivating The Best In Others.”  It’s been used by hundreds of organizations across the world. 

The other day, I saw the following poster hanging in a manager’s office.  It read:


I will do more than belong–
    I will participate.

I will do more than believe–
    I will practice.

I will do more than forgive–
    I will forget.

I will do more than teach–
    I will inspire.

I will do more than comment–
    I will help.

I will do more than be fair–
    I will be kind.

I will do more than dream–
    I will work.

I will do more than give–
    I will serve.

“Good points.  Good poster,” I thought.  But based on today’s “Tuesday Tip,” I would have to add …

I will do more than hope my people are responsible–
    I will hold them accountable.

     I will do more than wish my people understand–
    I will give feedback. 

Action:  If you’re a leader of any sort, ask your followers what they like and don’t like about your communication feedback skills.  And ask them what they want and don’t want to know when it comes to feedback.