Why Leaders Need to Take Responsibility For Their Actions

Jun 18, 2014
8 Min Read

Every action that a leader takes can greatly influence the outcome of their success, along with their employees. In order to find out how leaders can be more effective in taking responsibility for their actions, I spoke to Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie. Terry is a writer, consultant, entrepreneur and startup investor living in Portland, Oregon. He has one of the top leadership blogs at TerryStarbucker.com and is an investor in the Oregon Angel Fund and Angel Oregon. He is mentor for the Portland Incubator Experiment and the Portland Seed Fund, and a member of the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network. In this brief interview, he talks about how leaders can take responsibility for their actions, why workplaces shouldn't have managers, and more.

Dan Schawbel: Why is it so important for leaders to take responsibility for their actions? What happens when they don't?

Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie: Very early on in my life, I discovered that if I was to be an effective leader, I had to accept the responsibility of making tough decisions, and overcome the fears that go with it. If you don’t do that, it leads to indecision, which in turn produces inertia - and inertia is a business-killer. My great mentor Tom Peters said it best – leaders have to develop a "bias towards action." We HAVE to step up when we are called to decide. Accept the responsibility. Embrace it, and win.

Schawbel: How do you suggest leaders take their ideas and turn them actions?

St. Marie: Dan, I break it down into 4 basic steps, centered around execution, for as Thomas Edison once said, “vision without execution is hallucination.” First, you set up meaningful metrics and measurements, both short-term and long-term, that cascade down the organization. Second, you relentlessly link those metrics to the specific performance standards of the individuals involved in the execution. Third, make it all transparent, through weekly (and even daily) reports that track progress. And lastly, and most importantly, you need to hold everyone, and yourself, accountable to the results by constant monitoring and feedback.

Schawbel: You recently wrote about the "no-boss workplace." Can you share your thoughts with us about the pros and cons of this type of operation?

St. Marie: I can understand this backlash against old-school bosses, and the trend towards flatter organizations that essentially “crowdsource” the best decisions. The sentiment has been around for a while – many years ago, Peter Drucker himself cast a wary eye on the classic middle manager stereotype. Sure, bad managers can really muck things up, but in my view, the solution isn’t to get rid of managers altogether – it’s to change them from “bosses” to what I call more human leaders. More human leaders are the true organization “flatteners,” enabling engagement, empowerment and job fulfillment throughout the workforce, and keeping the ship pointed in the right direction. Everybody has an important role to play, and that role is understood within the context of the greater whole.

Schawbel: What mistakes do you typically see leaders making when you coach them?

St. Marie: There are 5 that I typically see – in fact, they were mistakes that I made earlier in my career as well. One, is thinking all budgets are “immutable”  - that’s a big trap door.  Two, is going for style over substance – pretty reports can’t hide the hard cold facts. Third, there’s the overreliance on so-called “experts” (there are really no such thing).  Four, it’s thinking a constant parade of “good news” is a fantastic thing. It reminds me of this great quote from General Colin Powell: “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” And fifth, is the mistake of letting fear rule your leadership. It poisons everything, and robs your common sense.

Schawbel: Can you name your top 5 things that leaders can do this year to make their lives easier and their actions more effective?

St. Marie: 1. Read Your Fine Print - Every leader’s strengths, if overplayed, can turn out to be a negative – I call that the leader’s "fine print." An example of this is how a beneficial tendency to be a “hard charger” can turn bad if you end up going overboard, and steamroll over your teammates.

2. Put The Right Team On The Field - Take stock of your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and ask hard questions:  Is everyone committed to the plan? Are there unresolved issues from last year? Answer these questions NOW.

3. Calibrate Your Accountability Meter - Make sure your “accountability meter” is set properly; make sure your teammates know what their expectations are for the year, and once that is done, be prepared to lead with full accountability against those expectations.

4. Clean Out Your Ears - Prepare your ears to listen, with this virtual "Q-Tip."   Sit down at your desk and turn off your handheld and computer. Feel and “hear” what it’s like to not multitask. Make a mental note to recreate this “listening environment” every time you are in the presence of your teammates.

5. Practice Patience, Tolerance & Engagement (just be More Human) - This is the most important item of them all, and the hardest to do. It’s so easy to get impatient, intolerant of critique, or adverse to conflict. You don’t have to be a zen master, but it’s important to stay centered, calm, open minded, receptive, and understanding.

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