AVOID THE SAME FATE AS SEARS BY LEARNING THE LANGUAGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
How much of your success would you say is up to you? Are your choices, actions, and behaviors all because of you? Or do you look to blame outside conditions? If you blame your problems and failures—big or small, personal or professional—on other people, circumstances beyond your control, or just plain bad luck, you may be doomed to fail.
When life feels turbulent and unstable, it is vital to specify where the accountability is. For a failing business, do you look towards the leader, the employees, or the market? In order to fix the problem, you need to locate where the problem is so you can fix it while you have the chance.
Sears, the once-dominant retail chain that changed how Americans shopped and lived, has filed for bankruptcy.The 132-year-old company has been struggling for several years and is drowning in debt. The final straw was a $134 million debt payment due Monday that it could not afford.
The question everyone wants an answer to, is how did this happen? The road that led to Sears’s fall had many speed bumps. But you can’t explain the downfall of Sears without mentioning its leader, Eddie Lampert.
At FPG, we encourage ourselves and each other to live by 5 key values: accountability, trust, dialogue, excellence, and drive. Accountability, the first on our list, means taking ownership over your performance. The first mistake you can make with accountability as a leader, is holding accountability instead of creating accountability.
It was reported that Lampert rarely focused on the culture of employees, but instead focused on results and the numbers. One employee from the company’s headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, wrote: “Corporate employees are in deep denial about how bad things are and seem content to get a check and babble on about ‘transformation’.”
Critics of Lampert have also chided the CEO for promising “transformation”, while by most financial measures, the company has consistently showed signs of continued decline.
As a leader, your company’s survival depends on your ability to create a culture of accountability. If you foster an environment where you just hold your people accountable, you will find your company culture to be one of finger-pointing and excuse-making. Creating a culture of accountability ensures longevity for your company. You don’t just hold people accountable, your people hold themselves accountable. This causes people to take personal ownership their performance, and the company’s performance.
So, how do you create a culture of accountability? You can start with your leadership language.
Leadership language is not just about inspiring speeches to put pep in your employees’ steps that will only last for a week or so. Leadership language is everything you say to your people, even in the absence of words. It is your ability to be there, to be present, to hear your people, and inspire long lasting action.
Every CEO of a large company will make mistakes, we all make mistakes. However, Lampert’s leadership model was flawed. He worked mostly from home, believing that “There are cultures where people work from home, and they still get things done, and the ability to trust people, the ability to empower people, that’s the model.”
This model of leadership is paved with good intentions, but if you hold a position of leadership during rough waters you need to be there to set the tone and create a culture of accountability.
So how can you avoid the same fate as Sears? Learn the speak the Leadership Language.
In ancient Greece, they knew what we had forgotten: your job as a leader is to persuade people to do great things in uncertain contexts, using only one tool: your words. Compelling leaders have three qualities that they express through three “languages”:
Agility. This language is about reading situations and getting things done. Lampert ran his empire from his home, and although his intention of empowering and trusting his people was good, he lacked presence in situations that needed him. When Sears began to crumble, he wasn’t in the office speaking directly to his people, and that sent employees a message.
When you’re physically in the room with your people, and feeling their energy, you need to use words that will create an atmosphere of accountability. For example, when you say something like “We need to execute flawlessly” your employees are hearing that there is no room for mistakes. Shift the tone and use your words to inspire action through unity by saying something like, “together we will give our best”.
Authenticity. Your team needs to know that your values and dreams are aligned with theirs. Your people need you to set a positive tone. Authentic language will always come from the heart, and you need to be transparent in order to build a culture of accountability.
How is your team supposed to trust you and hold themselves to a higher standard if you aren’t being completely honest and setting an example? Emphasizing partnership and unity creates a culture of accountability, but none of your employees will believe in your goals unless you show up and lead by example.
Empathy. In order to create a culture of lasting accountability, you need to lead with empathy. Leaders of large companies such as Sears can easily forget about the lives of their people when they don’t engage with them every day. Remember, your company would not exist without your people. You need to take time to listen to concerns, encourage your team to communicate and work through problems together.
Remind your people that you are a human too, and sometimes you make mistakes. The only way to move forward and grow into a culture of accountability is if your team feels connected to each other. Empathy will bring your team together and allow them to unite during the hard times. You are one unit with one goal.
Become a leader that people will follow. Don’t avoid speaking and showing up for your people, especially during rough times. Sharpen your leadership language so you can create a culture of accountability because it will build strong bones that can only grow stronger with time.