Peter B. Star on Leadership

In coaching a manager recently, we learned that her biggest challenge was holding two employees accountable for following department procedures and for communicating to other employees in a style that is respectful and collaborative. To put it simply, this manager needed these employees to do their job correctly and be great team players. When we asked this leader why she was hesitant to hold these two employees accountable, she responded with one word…FEAR!

Leadership fear

  • Fear that if they held the employees accountable, the employees would threaten to quit
  • Fear of the employees’ reactions to being held accountable (tears, aggressive response, etc.)
  • Fear that the employees would attempt to spread ill will and discontent among other employees on the team
  • Fear that if they did try to hold the employees accountable, it would make the situation worse. (Example: although the employees come to work late, do not follow policies and procedures, and are not team players, their measurable results “sales” are outstanding)
  • Fear that the employees would become angry or upset and stop talking to them
  • Fear that if they held the employees accountable, the employees would run to someone higher up in the organization who may side with them and not support you in holding the employees accountable

Here is the problem with the examples shared by this leader. When you don’t do what you should do to hold your direct reports accountable…and you don’t take the action out of fear, you are neither a leader nor a manager…you are a HOSTAGE! A hostage, by definition, is someone who is captured against their will. When managers don’t do what they know is the right thing to do, hold the employee accountable, and they don’t do it out of fear, they are being held captive.

To be a leader, you need to be respected. When an employee holds you hostage for one of the above reasons, although the employee does not come and tell you to your face, they do not respect you. A bigger problem is that everyone on your team sees that you do not hold the deviant employee accountable and the rest of the team also lacks respect for the manager.

Here are seven tips to release your hostage bonds and start down the path to re-claim your position of manager and relationship of leader.

Lean in

Employees who hold their managers hostage effectively do so because they know their manager is hesitant or lacks the confidence to talk to them about the issue. We are convinced that employees know what they are supposed to do to make the manager happy and, when they exhibit behaviors that undermine the success of the organization, team or manager, those behaviors need to be addressed in a timely manner.

Don’t manage by hope and hint

When an employee does something they are not supposed to do, tell them exactly what you need them to do differently and when you need them to do it to be a successful member of the team.

Clear your strategy with your boss and HR

Employees who hold their boss hostage are able to do it for a reason. They usually produce strong measurable results. These employees tend to be the best salespeople; the most productive workers. Most times, their customers love them. What you don’t want is for the employee to go around you, their manager, to your boss and have your boss side with the employee over fear of what the employee might do. When the employee says, “I am going to HR or your boss” and you have reviewed your strategy and both HR and your boss are on the same page, you can look the employee in the eye and say, “Going to HR and/or my boss is a great idea. Would you like me to help you get the meeting set up?” When you have that level of confidence, you are well on your way to reclaiming your title of leader.

Follow-up

During your meeting to discuss your employee’s accountability, set up the next meeting to review their progress. If you set up the next meeting for one week, make sure you put it on both your calendars and ensure the meeting happens.

Expect that your relationship with the employee may get worse

When you hold people accountable who resent the fact you are asking them to change their behaviors, many times the relationship gets worse before it improves. For example, prior to meeting with the employee, there was very little communication with me about the progress of their projects.  After I met with the employee about turning their projects in complete and on time, they stopped communicating with me altogether. Holding the employee accountable and working through their problems will make them feel better about their performance and the relationship improves.

Remember the truth

Employees who threaten to quit over being held accountable very seldom actually follow through on their threat. The reason that most employees don’t quit is because when they think about having to find a new job, they quickly remember that any new employer is not going to put up with their crap and they will have to change even more than correcting the problem you are discussing with them.

Have the guts to take big action!

If the employee is not going to change, then you need to regain your leadership title the old fashioned way. Coach them. Counsel them. Train them. Document your process with HR’s help. When all this does not work, SHARE THEM WITH YOUR BEST COMPETITOR. There is no greater strategic planning action than to take the employee who causes you the greatest grief and give them to your competitor and screw up their business plan. When you begin to work on cool stuff with your new employee, your competitor will wonder how they even got into this hostage situation.

Do you have an employee holding you hostage?  Put these seven tips into action and regain your position of leadership.

About the author

Peter B. Stark is a nationally recognized executive coach, author, and speaker. For over 20 years, he has helped leaders build organizations where employees love to come to work and customers love to do business.  Peter’s humorous, customized, informative and content heavy speeches are drawn from his personal experience as a leader, his experience with clients, as well as the information he gains through pre-keynote interviews. Employees and leaders will leave with actionable tips on how to make positive change and achieve both their goals and the organization’s goals.

It begins simple enough.  You have a mountain you dream of climbing.  It might be climbing an actual mountain, writing a book, changing careers, or maybe going to graduate school – who knows.  The goal seems possible, but terribly challenging. 

The weight of the goal makes you hesitate.  You delay.  The monster is born.  It dwells under your bed, watching you, waiting for the opportunity to maul your dreams. 

Your life continues and to the typical observer, all is well, but you know better.  The monster breathes so loud, you can’t ignore it.  You try to deal with it by saying that soon you’ll be ready to commit to the goal.  As soon as you finish that one thing!  It becomes clear you’re just delaying.  The monster continues to grow. 

The noise under the bed cripples your ability to sleep.  Fine!  You get up in the middle of the night and resolve to get it done.  You write the first draft of the first chapter or fill out the first few applications for graduate school.  The monster falls silent, watching to see what you’ll do.  You feel triumphant!

Quickly life encroaches, and you lose focus.  Every day at work there are endless fires to fight.  At home, a family who rightfully needs your attention.  You don’t actually write chapter one, let alone a second or third chapter.  The applications are never mailed.  The monster howls, relishing its victory.  It’s mocking you. 

The truth is that in life it’s far easier to make excuses, than to work extra hard for an extended period of time.  Your choice:  make excuses or make progress.  The trouble with excuses is that they are addicting.  Like drugs, they are an easy answer.  They might distract you, but they never solve the problem.

Here’s your call to action. 

Realize that most of your constraints are imagined.  They might pose a real challenge, but how you choose to view that challenge is entirely up to you.  Whether or not the glass is half full is your call to make. 

Next, realize that all big accomplishments are predicated on trying and failing.  Any learning curve will result in mistakes, setbacks, and screw-ups.  That’s just the natural process of learning.  It’s time to stop living in fear of other people knowing you’ve failed or that you’re imperfect.  Wear your learning moments like the badges of honor they are.

Be honest – what kind of life do you want to live?  When you’re in your last year and looking back on life, how would you like to summarize the journey?  There are two main choices.  You can say, “Hey, I avoided risks, was always careful, and never really failed in any significant way.  I survived.”  Or, you can say, “I tried a lot of things.  I enjoyed a few huge victories, and many defeats, but mostly I’m just happy I tried to chase my dreams.  I survived.”

What kind of survivor do you want to be?

Here’s how to arm yourself to slay the monster.  It starts with team planning.  If you have significant others, they need to know about your intentions, support you, and accept a plan moving forward that allows you to be dedicated to the goal (financially and logistically).  Very often, it takes a team to propel you forward.

Before you launch the plan, be sure you don’t try to re-invent the wheel.  Use your network, a coach, a mentor.  Go find people who have done what you’re dreaming of doing, or something similar.  Ask them what they wish they would have known before they began.  Ask for their wisdom. 

Plan for failure. 

If setbacks and mistakes are inevitable, plan for them.  For example, when a difficult unexpected moment happens during the journey, it helps to have a go-to routine.  Try some version of this:  spend a little time alone, choose not to make fast rash decisions unless utterly necessary, say to yourself that you knew this would happen – that it’s normal, and that it will fuel learning once you check the emotions and get focused on learning. 

Okay.  Now you’re ready.  It’s time to slay the monster.

Dr. Dewett is one of the world’s leading leadership personalities. Authenticity expert. Killer keynotes. TEDx speaker. Inc. Magazine Top 100 leadership speaker. Bestselling author at LinkedIn Learning. Over twenty million professionals can’t be wrong. Find out what all the fuss is about: www.drdewett.com.

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