4 Leadership Practices to Establish Healthy Accountability with a Tired Workforce

The best leaders understand that healthy accountability is about empowerment, not control. Much of the workforce is tired, overworked and already under high stress. A leader who relies too heavily on authority to push accountability will create frustration and resistance among his employees.

Effective leadership requires building strong relationships and creating an environment where employees can deliver results. As employees continue to feel the lingering effects of a global pandemic and an ever-changing work environment, finding the right balance between empathy and accountability can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned leaders.

4 Leadership Practices to Establish Healthy Accountability

1) People first

The central role of leadership is to create an environment in which employees feel valued, included, motivated and able to do their best. This type of healthy environment requires employees to believe that their leaders care about their well-being and career success. The following list from the Gallup organization shares research on how top managers support employee engagement by focusing on both relationship building and performance:

  • Results-oriented while focusing on the development of each worker
  • Intentionally giving employees a voice in decision-making
  • Make sure people feel connected and know how their work contributes to the team and the organization.
  • Regularly make people feel valued and appreciated, even nurtured
  • Care deeply about the well-being of everyone they lead

2) Show empathy

Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others”. Research repeatedly shows that empathy is essential for leaders to demonstrate emotional intelligence, design thinking, high performance, effective teamwork, healthy relationships and communication. Claire. Leaders demonstrate empathy by asking quality questions and listening to their employees.

Taking the time to ask questions demonstrates that the leader understands that they do not have all the information and the value of feedback from their team members to make effective decisions. These positive conversations with employees allow managers to establish a culture where employees feel valued, safe, empowered and motivated.

Below are two types of questions leaders should regularly ask their employees.

Questions to understand the perspectives of others

  • What works? / “What’s wrong?
  • What does success look like? / How important is it to you?
  • How are you doing during this difficult time?

Questions that generate future-oriented solutions

  • What do you think we should do next?
  • What is the biggest obstacle and how can we overcome it?
  • What support do you need from me and others?
  • What actions should we plan to take next?

3) Quickly adjust goals and priorities

With the rise of virtual work and matrix reporting relationships, creating clear expectations for employees has become an increasing challenge for leaders. Goals and priorities give direction to a team, allowing them to understand where they are now, define where they want to go, and unite the efforts of each team member to get there. Teams must develop the ability to continually assess and re-prioritize, if necessary, to meet new challenges and stay on track for success. The following questions can help teams reflect and adapt to a changing environment.

  • What changed?
  • What have we learned?
  • How should we update our goals, priorities or processes?
  • How should we work differently?
  • What new knowledge, skills and habits do we need to develop?

When goals change, team members need to understand why the new priority better supports their overall goal, how they plan to make that change, and what steps they will take to be successful.

4) Shared problem solving

Empowerment cannot happen without including the team in the problem solving process. Inclusion is necessary for employees to feel shared ownership and control. A team’s success depends on its collective ability to identify and resolve recurring issues that continually arise.

Resolving issues that get in the way of achieving team goals should be the focus of recurring team meetings. Below are best practices for teams that excel at inclusive problem solving.

  • A defined process for how the team resolves issues and problems.
  • Prioritize issues before troubleshooting begins – It’s essential to resolve the most critical challenges first to ensure that the bulk of the time isn’t focused on less important issues.
  • Clear expectations that each team member’s contribution is valued and expected when resolving team issues.

A problem-solving meeting agenda allows the team to flex their team muscles to successfully resolve ongoing issues and opportunities.

The main role of a leader is to create an environment in which employees can meet expectations while feeling valued and listened to. When employees or teams are off track or missing deliverables, this should not be a reason for punitive actions from the leader. Successful teams understand that failure is part of success as long as they use setback as an opportunity to learn, adapt, and take common action to get back on track.

Michael A. Bynum