One of the primary responsibilities of all leaders is to ensure that they build consistently high-performing teams. Yet many leaders struggle to achieve this key goal. Others start out with promising results, but aren’t able to sustain their teams’ performance over the long term.
What separates the truly high-performing teams from the ones that struggle, or that start out strong but fizzle out? The key is leadership accountability.
This was the challenge that my colleague, Christoph Niebel, recently faced. He is the Managing Director of the US Northeast Region for Lee Hecht Harrison. He was tasked with bringing two previously separate regions together into one truly accountable, high-performing team.
Niebel decided to hold his first quarterly meeting after the merger of two regions late last year. “A key objective of the meeting was to build trust, encourage forward thinking and create energy within the team,” he said.
How did he accomplish this? Niebel and his team leveraged the ideas in my book, The Leadership Contract.
“All of us took the opportunity to sign The Leadership Contract. We made a deep and personal commitment to being the best leaders we can be and to support one another to build a high performing team,” explained Niebel.
Since releasing the first edition of my book in 2013, I have had many conversations with clients about how to apply the principles of The Leadership Contract to a team dynamic, rather than just on an individual basis. It was something I always thought could work, but I was surprised to see how many leaders were interested in taking the concept to their teams.
Late last year, a client approached me to ask how she could apply the ideas in my book with her newly formed senior leadership team. She had an upcoming one-day offsite and wanted to include The Leadership Contract which could be a valuable part of her approach.
I went away to reflect on her request. I consulted a few of my colleagues and we came back to her with an agenda for a one-day session that was based on a series of questions anchored to the four terms of The Leadership Contract:
- Leadership is a Decision – Make It
- What is our vision of a truly accountable team?
- Are we “all in” as individual team members and fully committed to create and sustain a truly accountable team?
- Do we have clarity regarding our mutual expectations of one another?
- What are the Big “D” and small “d” leadership decisions that we will need to make as a team?
- Leadership is an Obligation – Step Up
- What is our core obligation as a team?
- In what ways will we individually and collectively step up to our core obligation?
- How do we intend to leave our organization in better shape than we found it?
- How will we set the tone and be an example of a truly accountable team to others in our organization?
- Leadership is Hard Work – Get Tough
- What is the hard work that this team must tackle in order for us to be successful?
- What is the hard work within our own organization that we must address head-on?
- What are the tough conversations we must have as a team? And with other teams we will work with?
- How must we demonstrate resilience and resolve as a team?
- Leadership is a Community – Connect
- How will we establish a real sense of community within our team?
- In what ways will we have each other’s backs?
- How will we celebrate our key milestones and successes?
- How will we support the success of other teams that we will work with across our organization?
My client reported back that the questions functioned as powerful triggers for some extremely meaningful and practical conversations. They helped her team address issues head-on, and find solutions more quickly than anyone could expect.
I have always preached the idea that leaders must be individually accountable. I have learned as well that leadership teams must collectively accept the challenge of accountability. A team cannot become high performing if only some of its members are embracing accountability.
This week’s gut check asks: are you leading a truly accountable team?