Category Archives: Accountability


You will never ever get what you want!!! You will only get what you focus on.

At first I am disappointed, because I really want what I want. It makes me feel bad to understand that I will never get what I want.

If I really want it, I have to focus on it.

If you tell me – “It is really hard to find good people these days. We just never seem to hire the kind of people we really want.” My response – You will never get what you want! You will only get what you focus on.

It’s not that you can’t find good people out there. You just have not focused your concentration and energy to find good people. So, what does focus look like? Think about finding good people, talk about finding good people, have meetings about finding good people, plan a campaign to find good people. Roll out an action plan to find good people.

You will never get what you want. You will only get what you focus on.

Translator Role

The planning session was almost over. The team energy was pumped up. Well, all except for Audrey. Her expression was only remarkable in contrast to the upbeat tempo of the rest of the team.

“Audrey, what do you think?” I asked. She was startled, the question was unexpected.

“What do you mean?” she said.

“You are a senior member of this team. You have been around. We have been working on this plan for a couple of hours, what are we missing?”

Though Audrey had been thinking, she had not prepared herself to share these thoughts.

“You are right. I think we are missing a big step here,” she finally said. “I have seen plans like this fail before. Here. In this company. The plan sounds good. It is a worthy target, but we have to get there. We can get all excited, give stump speeches to all of our work groups, but until we translate.” She stopped. “Yes, that’s the word. Translate. We have to translate this plan into the things we do every day to make this happen. If we don’t figure that out, time will go by and we won’t see the progress we expect. We have to connect our everyday disciplines to this larger plan. If we don’t the plan will fail.”

Mind the Gap (Analysis)

The meeting took a sudden turn for the worse when Emil stood up, walked over in front of Sharon and slammed down the report. Up to then, things had been ambling along with the usual finger pointing, back biting and general nastiness. Now, there was real confrontation.

The GPS Project had been off track for several weeks and the whipping post of every department meeting in the past 14 days. As I listened, it occurred to me that, what had been said, was true. The problem was in the structure of the conversation, or the lack of it, that prevented the team from making progress.

“What did we expect?” I asked the group.

Susan pulled out a project plan with a summarized list of milestones. “This,” she said. “This is what we expected.”

“And, what did we get?” I wanted to know.

Roberto shuffled some paper. “This is a report of the actual costs to date and the percent of completion. We spend 60 percent of our budget, but we are only 25 percent complete. I want to know whose fault it is.”

“Okay, look around the room. We are all here. Instead of looking for fault, let’s look for accountability. No single person, or one department accounts for the shortfall in productivity. Right now, we have two things to examine. We know what we want and we know what we got. In what way can we get from here to there. That is what we are going to talk about today.”

The Big Derailer

“Tell me what you accomplished so far with the pattern we talked about?” I asked.

“We met, everybody, same room. I acknowledged the heated exchange between Fred and Jim from the week before, that there was an issue of underperformance on a project. I asked everyone to write down how they felt during the exchange, then once around the table, everyone speaking only for themselves. No one was allowed to say -we all felt this, or most of us felt that, everyone can only speak for themselves,” Ron started.

“Okay,” I nodded. “We know what the issue is, that we are attempting to resolve underperformance on the project. We were clear to acknowledge the emotional load that went with it. Fred and Jim are now aware of the impact of their heat on the team. Now we get curious.”

Ron furrowed his brow. “What do you mean get curious?”

“I mean, questions and only questions,” I said.

“Who is asking the questions and who is responding?” Ron wanted to know.

“Everyone on the team is asking the questions. Fred and Jim get to respond. Here is a quick list –

  • Working on the project, what did you observe? What did you see, what did you hear?
  • What was the impact on the project? What were other impacts on the project? How did that make you feel?”

“Whoa, whoa,” Ron stopped me. “We keep talking about feelings. What do feelings have to do with this?”

“That’s easy. First, it is out in the open that there was underperformance on the project, which is what we are trying to fix. Fixing the problem got derailed by the emotions in the exchange. We can avoid those emotions, we can stuff them down, we can ignore them, but they will come back, they always come back. Let’s get the emotions out on the table now, so we can acknowledge them, check them with reality, so we can get on with fixing the problem.”

What Would Happen?

“But, Sue, Tony and Ricardo were just bystanders in the exchange between Fred and Jim,” Ron was puzzled. “Shouldn’t I keep them as bystanders and just deal with the two primary actors?”

“Sue, Tony and Ricardo are as involved in the fracas as Fred and Jim. They may not have actively participated on the front end of the exchange, but they were certainly impacted on the back end. Fred and Jim need to hear about that. So, yes, everyone gets a turn in the discussion, but, only speaking for themselves. And you, you are not exempt, just because you are the leader. How did you feel when the back and forth between Fred and Jim got heated?”

“I felt threatened, my stomach got a little knot in it,” Ron replied. “I wanted it to be over, I wanted it to stop.”

“And, what else?” I asked.

“I felt like the team was going to explode, or fall apart.”

“And, what else?”

“I felt if Fred and Jim continued their animosity, it might turn violent and they would never be able to work together again.”

“Good,” I said. “I assume you will hear similar things as you go around the table.”

“And, that’s it?” Ron stopped.

“No, now it is time to get curious. What was it that contributed to the heat? Now is the time for questions.”

Hall Pass

“If you are not going to pretend to be in control of the emotional exchanges in the meeting, what do you need to allow yourself to do in the meeting?” I asked.

“I need to allow myself the ability to listen to each side before I judge the conversation off limits,” Ron replied.

“Can you give yourself a hall pass to do that?”

“A hall pass?” Ron chuckled.

“Yeah, a hall pass. Write that down. Give yourself a hall pass to listen to each side before you judge the conversation off limits,” I smiled.

“I feel like I am writing a permission slip from my parents.”

“Call it what you like,” I nodded. “Now, what do you need from the team to make that happen?”

“When Fred and Jim got into it, in the meeting, they were trash talking each other,” Ron’s turn to nod.

“So, what do you need from the team to give yourself permission to listen without judgement? And, remember, it’s the emotions that made you uncomfortable, not the fact that Fred and Jim were calling each other out on performance. What do you need from the team, including Fred and Jim?”

“If I were brave enough to ask, as the leader,” Ron started, “I would ask each of them, in the face of a shortfall in expectation, what is the impact on them, personally, and how does it make them feel. And, that they should only speak for themselves. No speaking for someone else. Fred cannot speak for Jim and Jim cannot speak for Fred.”

“And, don’t forget about Sue and Tony and Ricardo, they need to speak for themselves as well.”


Ron took a moment to reflect on the way he felt during the heated discussion the week before at the management team meeting. “We have already established that there was a knot in my stomach. When Jim and Fred went after each other, at first I was surprised. Then, I went into self protection mode, wondering if the expressed emotions would swing around to me. As the leader, sometimes I feel like everyone depends on me to control situations like this, especially if they are out of control.”

“That’s a good start,” I said.

“Oh. I wouldn’t tell the team that, I thought this was just between you and me,” Ron replied.

“Right now, it is just between you and me. What version of that would you consider sharing with the team?”

“Well, I wouldn’t want them to see me as some sort of a weak leader,” Ron reflected. “So, I would probably leave out the part about me not being in control.”

“Do you really think you were ever in control,” I asked. “Control is a funny thing, sometimes just an illusion. Do you think it is important that the team always sees you in control, even when you are not?”

“Can’t I at least pretend?”

“You can, but how will the team come to some resolution if you pretend to be in control?”

How Did You Feel?

“So, there will be a little knot in each team member’s stomach,” I said. “They will remember the discussion at the team meeting last week that was none too friendly, so you quickly adjourned. What are you going to do differently this week, assuming you are not going to avoid the discussion?”

Ron had to think. “I don’t want to avoid the conflict, but I do want to manage it.”

“And, how do you intend to manage it?” I asked.

“We need some sort of ground rules for the meeting when people disagree. I want to keep the emotions out of it,” Ron replied.

“What if emotions are all part of the conflict?” I smiled. “Because if there is a conflict, there are usually emotions attached.”

“But, it’s emotions that caused the conflict,” he insisted.

“Think about this shift,” I probed. “Emotion is part of the conflict, not necessarily the cause. And, if we don’t acknowledge the emotion, it will get stuffed down. Stuffed down emotion causes people to armor up, get defensive and go into self-protection. Could you ask a question to the group that would require each person to just check-in on what they were feeling last week during the altercation and how they feel today as we work toward resolution.”

“You mean like ask them to talk about their feelings?”

I nodded. “Yes. Like this. How did you feel last week during the discussion between Jim and Fred when things got heated?

“Is that a question for me, right now?”

I nodded again. “Yes.”

A Little Knot in the Stomach

“In the heat of the moment,” I started, “you may not have had the words or the stomach for it, so you adjourned the meeting.  But, this team will have to gather again.  When?”

“Wednesday,” Ron replied.  “We meet every Wednesday.”

“And, the team had an entire week to ruminate about the conflict last Wednesday. What do you think their mental state will be when you reconvene the group?”

“Well, I hope things will have settled down between the two managers, we can let bygones be bygones and get on with the agenda,” Ron said.

“Does your team have that short of a memory?” I asked.

Ron was quiet. “No, they will all be thinking about the altercation last week.”

“An altercation which has not been discussed since, at least that is what you hope.” My turn to pause. “But, you can bet there has been plenty of discussion outside of that conference room. They are not unspoken words, they are just unspoken in public, with the group. What are you pretending not to know?”

“I don’t know how the team will respond if we bring it back up. We might get a repeat performance and be right back where we were last week,” Ron grimaced.

“And, how will people’s stomachs be feeling if you bring it back up?” I asked.

“My stomach is in a knot right now, just thinking about it.”

“Then, you know you are dealing with a real issue.”

Kicking the Can

“Things didn’t get nasty,” Ron reported, “but, I think it’s because I put the brakes on the meeting, and simply adjourned it pretty quickly.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Two of our managers went after each other in the meeting. One complained about the other in front of the rest of the executive team. That immediately turned into defensiveness. I stopped the conversation from escalating and told everyone we would pick this up next Monday.”

“Timeouts are not necessarily bad, especially when the emotions speak so loudly that we cannot even hear the words. But, tell me what impact this had on the rest of the team? What did this exchange teach them about how things work around the company?”

“Well, for one thing, it clearly communicated that I will not tolerate rude or insulting behavior,” Ron explained.

“And, what else did it teach them?”

“That if the behavior persists, I will shut it down. I won’t tolerate it and I will take action.”

“And, what else?” I pressed.

“You have something in mind when you ask the same question three times,” Ron chuckled.

I nodded yes.

“Okay. The team learned that when things get rough in a management meeting, where emotions surface in the conversation, we will avoid the confrontation and kick the can down the road.”

“Now, we are getting somewhere,” I said.