Finding Middle Ground: How A Leader Can Be A People Person And An Accountability Advocate

President and CEO, MassageLuXe

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When you’re an employer or manager, you might find yourself trying to balance being a friendly teammate and being a taskmaster. Put another way, is it more important to be a people person or an accountability advocate?

If you’re asking that question and stressing over it, the reason you’re likely anxious is that you’re trying to decide upon a management style that’s either-or. But from my perspective, they’re both critical components of leadership.

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This might come as a relief to you; it was for me when I came to the conclusion fairly early on in my career. Because if you can be both a people person and an accountability advocate, you never have to choose one or the other and wind up with a management style that’s wrong for you.

Both approaches are important.

In my experience, extremes in any area of life almost never work out. If your business is always holding your workers accountable but your company never displays any warmth, ultimately, people are going to feel as if they’re working in an environment that doesn’t foster collaboration.

If you go the opposite direction and never hold anybody accountable, your workplace will resemble one of those towns in an old Western where there is no law and order. And somehow, you’ve turned into the sheriff no one respects. That’s the irony: People-pleasers to the extreme can get walked on, and after a while, they could lose their team’s respect. This is exactly the opposite of what a people-pleaser is striving for.

Driving down the middle of the road — that ground between being a people person and an accountability advocate — is what leaders and managers need to strive for.

Your team needs to understand the expectations the company has for them, but they also need to know the company cares about them and the work they’re doing. In my experience, people are much more likely to stick around and continue working for a company when they know the company cares about them as a person. In fact, I’d argue that’s any leader’s obligation: to care for their employees as much as they do their customers.

Finding that middle ground can be tricky, but it’s possible.

It can be a challenge for some managers. Some hate the very idea of confrontation and really want everybody in a company to like them. If being critiqued by your staff makes you queasy, holding people accountable for doing good work and following policies might be tougher for you.

That’s where you might need to hire a business coach or find a mentor to walk you through some of what you’re struggling with and come up with customized strategies for dealing with whatever emotions are in the way of you being a more effective leader.

But I can tell you this: The people you manage likely want to do a good job and be held accountable. That’s their path toward raises and promotions and climbing up the career ladder. Most of your employees also likely recognize that you have a job to do and you’re there to help them do their jobs. They just understandably don’t want to be micromanaged every second and browbeaten into doing their jobs well.

So, set policies in clear and unambiguous language, make sure everybody (including you) is following the policies you set into place, and give people the freedom to do their jobs. If you do this, most days, you’re probably going to find that your workplace can run itself. Praise also goes miles.

The important ingredient in all of this is empathy. You have workplace rules and goals for a reason, but at the same time, we’re all thinking and emotional beings. There will be days when people fall short of their duties, and generally, in most industries, that’s OK. People need to know that if they do make mistakes — and everybody does — they aren’t going to be dragged off to the gallows.

Understand the consequences of not finding that middle ground.

If you don’t strive to hold people accountable for their work and lack compassion and understanding, that becomes your company’s culture. After all, if you never hold your employees accountable, they won’t hold you accountable for anything either. That might not sound too bad, but it means that if they have a problem in the workplace, they won’t expect you or your business to solve it. That can mean you wind up with a lot of unreported problems within your business because people think, “Why bother saying anything?”

Similarly, if you do hold everybody accountable to a fault and never treat people like human beings, you can expect the same in return. You aren’t likely to get a lot of warm greetings in the hallways. You might not even receive a two-week notice if somebody is leaving.

Of course, you probably don’t need any convincing to balance accountability and compassion. Still, it’s worth thinking all of this through the next time you start questioning your management skills and wonder if you should be more tough or lenient. The answer often isn’t yes or no. It’s both. Be true to your basic instincts. Many leaders tend to be more of one style or the other, but to be truly effective, I believe you need to have both people skills and accountability standards.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?

President and CEO, MassageLuXe. Read Mark Otter’s full executive profile here.

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