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Clear Communication and Defined Leadership Goals: The Twin Pillars of an Accountable Culture

Clear Communication and Defined Leadership Goals: The Twin Pillars of an Accountable Culture

July 2023


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Courtney Lynch, author of Leading from the Front, once said, “Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame.”

Accountability plays a crucial role in organizations. Without it, any roadmap to progress is reduced to a mere suggestion, leaving uncertainty about how to achieve goals and who should drive the process. In short, without accountability, any business strategy becomes ineffective, like an edgeless blade or a pencil without lead.

However, cultivating a culture of accountability goes beyond simply avoiding the blame game or accepting responsibility. It requires two essential components: clear leadership goals and effective communication.

The Pitfall of Unclear Leadership Goals

The first obstacle on the road to a culture of accountability is unclear leadership goals.

During times of prosperity, the potential pitfalls of unclear leadership goals might go unnoticed. Success has a way of glossing over issues that can turn into significant obstacles during difficult times. When problems arise, the lack of clarity around leadership goals suddenly moves to the forefront. The subsequent uncertainty can create a blame culture, where everyone points fingers but nobody accepts responsibility for failures.  This is especially true for matrix organizations.

Several research studies have brought this issue into sharp focus. Teams without clear goals or objectives find it hard to coordinate their efforts effectively. This lack of coordination and alignment can lead to inefficient resource utilization and decreased productivity. As team members struggle to understand what they should be working towards, job satisfaction can deteriorate. This lack of direction can impede an organization’s growth and overall performance, which results in lower engagement.

Overcoming Challenges in Establishing Clear Leadership Goals

Effective communication forms the lifeblood of successful leadership. Even more importantly, without it, you can’t set clear leadership goals. It’s not just about disseminating information; it’s about creating understanding, fostering trust, and aligning all team members with the organizational vision.

Linjuan Rita Men and Don Stacks conducted a study that established a direct relationship between the clarity of leadership communication and organizational performance. They discovered that organizations where leaders effectively communicate their goals have higher job satisfaction rates, increased productivity, and overall better performance.

The establishment of clear communication between a leader, their leadership team, and their employees can be hindered by various things, including:

  1. A lack of trust

Any communication process relies on trust. According to research, trust is a crucial component of effective leadership communication. A lack of trust can inhibit honest and clear communication.

Leaders can foster trust by being transparent, not just about their strategies and objectives, but also about their emotions and thoughts. Trust is a two-way street, so leaders should also encourage transparency from their team by actively listening and genuinely considering their input. Consistency is the glue that holds this trust culture together. Leaders need to be steady in their demeanor and predictable in their reactions, creating a safe space for open communication.

Let’s consider an example of fostering trust. Imagine a situation where a member of the leadership team approaches you with concerns about the CFO’s reckless budgeting decisions. They ask you to keep their identity confidential when discussing it with the CFO. If you respect their request and address the CFO while maintaining the team member’s anonymity, you have taken the first steps towards building trust with your teammates.

2. Inadequate communication skills
Not all leaders are born with the ability to communicate effectively. Clear communication is an essential leadership quality that can significantly impact organizational performance. Leaders without effective communication skills can convey unclear messages, resulting in confusion and misunderstandings.

Communication skills can be developed through dedicated learning and practice. Writing exercises, for example, can enhance a leader’s ability to convey clear and concise messages. Increased proficiency in written communication often translates into improved verbal communication skills.

Mentorship is another effective method for leaders to refine their communication abilities. By learning from experienced communicators, leaders can gain insights and techniques akin to mastering dance steps with a seasoned partner. Leaders can seek mentors within their organization, industry, or even engage a communication coach.

3. Absence of feedback mechanisms

Effective communication involves both delivering and receiving information simultaneously, ensuring that messages are conveyed and understood accurately between all parties involved.

Leaders can implement feedback mechanisms to foster open communication within their teams. They should proactively seek feedback by actively reaching out to encourage open communication and gather valuable insights.

To accommodate those who may feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions directly, leaders can provide anonymous feedback channels. These could be online surveys, dedicated email addresses, or suggestion boxes, allowing employees to express their views without fear.

Regular feedback sessions, either individually or in groups, can also significantly enhance the quantity and quality of feedback a leader receives.

4. Unclear goals and objectives

As we mentioned previously, unclear leadership goals can churn the waters of communication, breeding confusion. It’s therefore crucial for leaders to not just master the art of goal communication, but also the craft of goal setting.

SMARTER goals can help with this. SMARTER stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound, evaluated, and reviewed.

To illustrate the uses of SMARTER goals, consider the case of a sales team. Instead of vaguely directing employees to hike up the sales, leaders could paint a more precise picture. They could challenge their team to propel sales upward by 15% from the first quarter to the fourth. This isn’t just a goal — it’s measurable, relevant, and with a clear deadline.

To add specificity, leaders could offer strategies to meet this goal. For example, they might recommend promoting a new product or reaching out to fresh market segments.

At the end of the fourth quarter, the team should review whether they met the goal and evaluate their overall performance. This process allows for continuous improvement and effective goal setting.

Leaders should also involve employees in the goal-setting process whenever possible. They should seek input, ideas, and feedback from team members. This not only empowers employees but also increases their sense of ownership and commitment.

5. Resistance to change

Resistance to change can impact attitudes and behaviors towards organizational shifts. If the leadership team or employees are resistant to changes communicated by the leader, it may hinder the establishment of clear communication.

Leaders can reduce resistance to change in their teams by clearly explaining the reasons and benefits of a particular change. They should encourage active participation from employees in shaping the change, as this sense of control can help those who are resistant to change to embrace it.

It is also important for leaders to provide training and development opportunities to team members who may be resistant to change, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge to adapt successfully.

Most importantly, however, leaders should lead with empathy and address the fears and concerns of their team members and employees regarding the change. Using the feedback provided regarding their fears about the change, leaders can work towards making the transition more acceptable to them.

For example, if employees are resistant to incorporating artificial intelligence into their roles due to concerns about job redundancy, leaders can alleviate these fears by assuring them that their positions are secure. They can emphasize that even if their roles can be fully automated, the organization will provide training and support to help them transition into different roles within the organization.

The Crucial Role of Accountability in Corporate Leadership

Clear goal setting and communication are integral to fostering accountability. When leaders provide a clear roadmap by setting and communicating clear, measurable, and achievable goals, it helps establish standards against which performance can be evaluated. This process creates a sense of responsibility among team members and encourages them to take ownership of their tasks.

When leadership goals and communication are unclear, the culture of accountability tends to suffer. This can lead to a blame culture, with no one taking responsibility for failures. Without clear goals and communication, it’s difficult to establish where ownership lies, and team members may shirk responsibility due to the lack of clarity about their roles and objectives.

Accountability also involves leaders owning up to their decisions, actions, and their consequences. It is a hallmark of successful leadership and forms a critical pillar for building trust within the team. When leaders demonstrate ownership — owning up to their decisions, actions, and their consequences — they instill confidence in their team members. This sense of trust can help enhance team cohesion and productivity, contributing to improved overall performance.

Through our discussions above, it becomes evident that the formula for establishing a culture of accountability can be summarized as follows: clear leadership goals + clear communication = a culture of accountability.

“Clear leadership goals + clear communication = a culture of accountability”

You Need Accountable Leaders with the Soft Skills to Drive Your Business Forward

The hazards of nebulous leadership goals, especially when lost in translation, can cast long shadows over an organization’s performance and slowly chip away at any established culture of responsibility.

Are you grappling with the task of instilling a culture of accountability in your organization’s DNA? Are you confident that your leaders are not only setting goals but also ensuring that each team member shoulders their share of the responsibility in achieving them? If you’re unsure, we stand ready to assist.

Stanton Chase has been placing, developing, and assessing leaders in premier organizations since 1990.

Don’t leave your questions unanswered. Click here to engage with one of our seasoned consultants and learn more about our board and executive assessments.

About the Author

As a Partner at Stanton Chase Istanbul, Can Arcasoy brings a wealth of experience in consumer goods, brand marketing, strategy, and general management. He is particularly passionate about working closely with leadership teams in organizations to help them navigate uncertain and volatile competitive environments through organizational restructuring and the establishment of an agile culture. Can is also an advocate for digital transformation, recognizing the importance of data-informed decision-making in these environments.

Click here to learn more about Can.

Koenraad Goris is an Associate Partner at Stanton Chase Brussels and serves as Stanton Chase’s Global Advisory Leader for Assessment and Succession Planning. His expertise lies in executive assessment, board assessment, coaching, and overseeing Stanton Chase’s global succession planning and leadership assessment initiatives.

Click here to learn more about Koenraad.

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