Ego Management and the Accountability Thief

Become a better sales coach and sales manager today.

As a manager, are you too nice? Is that even possible? It is, especially if you’re unwilling to hold people accountable out of the fear that they won’t like you if you do. Discover the problems you create when you’re too nice of a manager.

8-Steps to Creating a Coaching Culture by Keith Rosen
In a recent post, I wrote, “Coaching My Team is Harder Than I Thought! A Coach the Coach Conversation, a manager responded to this post by saying, “I’m normally very good at coaching. There are those reps that are great but they are skeptical of my technique. They say I’m too nice.”

Since this is a problem that affects a large percentage of managers, I seized this opportunity to write a detailed response which further evolved into this article.

Interestingly, I just spent several coaching sessions with a client exploring this very topic. As a regional sales manager, Sara also felt that she was, “Too nice” but feared changing her ways. For this manager, there were several factors that contributed to her feeling this way, along with several coaching opportunities for her.

First, there are those salespeople on Sara’s team who love her, are consistent producers but don’t want to be pushed further to better their best in order to achieve even more. Of course, these salespeople say she’s great, especially since she’s not challenging them further to achieve even more! These salespeople feel there’s no need to have their manager go out with them on joint sales calls, since they’re performing well anyway.

Then, there are those under-performing reps on Sara’s team who she has a perceived decent relationship with and ironically, they are the ones who are even more resistant to her coaching. Even when Sara asks them to do something, there’s always a good reason as to why it didn’t or couldn’t get done. Unfortunately, Sara does nothing more than listen to their excuses. After all, she doesn’t want to upset anyone and when it comes to her top producers, she certainly doesn’t want to push them harder to realize their fullest potential because if she does, they may just get up and quit.

You’re Not Paid to Be Popular

In either situation, we uncovered two coaching opportunities for Sara. First, this manager has a need to be liked. Sara wants all of her direct reports to like her, whether they’re an A, B or C player.

Sure, we all want to be liked; it’s a basic human need. As a manager, we can certainly create this type of relationship with our people as long as it’s balanced with a process that consistently holds them accountable, which is the part that many managers seem to struggle with most.

The costly assumption here is, “If I hold them accountable, they won’t like me” or “If I follow up with them to ensure they followed through with what was expected of them, I’m micromanaging them.”

How about this? “If I do hold them accountable and they understand what my intentions are, the will like me, respect me and achieve even more. Then, we all win.”

Managers need to realize they are not paid to be popular or to be liked. They are paid to do their job which is, making their people more valuable in order to get the results they need from their team. Now, can you create a situation where you can have both? Of course.

The Cost of Ego Management

Managers who need to be liked are reluctant to hold people accountable because if they do, they fear not being liked or respected by their people. As such, the greater cost here is, these managers don’t do a very effective job creating a deeper feeling of ownership around their direct report’s job and responsibilities but do a great job appeasing their people just to keep them happy. And the act of enabling your team, doing their job for them, solving all of their problems and keeping them all happy just makes the manager’s job exponentially more difficult.

Because of the need to be liked or the fear of not being liked, Sara has a very difficult time creating this essential culture of accountability. Subsequently, she doesn’t follow through or follow up when someone makes a commitment to do something or achieve something. When this happens, Sara sends a dangerous message to her direct reports which is, “You don’t have to follow through on the commitments you make and you don’t have to follow through when I ask you to do something. Basically, you don’t have to be accountable.”

Managers Get Tested by their Team Every Day

The second phenomenon occurring here is, managers are often ‘sold’ by their people! They believe the excuses their direct reports use in relation to why they are not performing, following a procedure or completing a certain task. Circling back to the need to be liked for this particular manager, Sara was afraid to call them out and hold them accountable. The cost of this behavior? More than half of her team were failing to reach their monthly sales targets.

Now when I say your direct reports test you in terms of what they can and cannot get away with, I’m not suggesting they are always doing this on a conscious level. However, if you have a person on your team who needs to become more consistent in certain activities or improve on a certain skill set, without following up with them consistently, the message the manager is sending here is, “There is no consequence if you don’t do this, so why change?”

Now, the culture created is one where your direct reports know that if they don’t listen to their boss, they can get away with it, without any cost or collateral damage.

A Tactical Approach to Reset and Better Manage Expectations

So, how can you create a culture of accountability and at the same time, create an even better relationship with the people on your team? It all starts with resetting expectations to create the proper alignment needed around your direct report’s goals and your business objectives.

Remember, if anyone is skeptical of your coaching, support, being held accountable or even your good intentions, it means only one thing. You haven’t set and managed expectations accordingly in a conversation and as such, when people don’t know what your intentions are, they revert to their default file, which is fear.

Sara forged ahead and scheduled one to one conversations with each rep, explaining how things are going to change, how she’s going to further hold them accountable, why this is so important, and the most critical part of this conversation when re-setting expectations is, to ensure you connect what is in it for them and how they will benefit from this.

A simple communication model to enroll people in change would sound like this:

“Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s why we’re doing it and here’s what’s in it for you.”

If you’re looking for a more robust template, feel free to use this and edit accordingly.

“What I want for you is to feel that as your manager, I’m a valuable resource who can contribute to your success by aligning what your personal goals are with the objectives you have at work. For me to best understand how I can do so, I’d love to learn more about what is most important to you in your job, as well as how I can best support and manage you in a way that you find valuable. So, I’d like to ask you some questions so that I can get to know you better and feel free to ask me any of the same questions as well! Are you open to exploring this with me now?”

Questions to Build Accountability

  1. What are you willing to commit to?
  2. How can I best manage you? Why type of management style do you respond to best? (Uncover how each employee wants to be managed and supported, then support them the way they described.)
  3. How can I hold you accountable for the results you are looking to achieve?
  4. How can I hold you accountable in a way that will sound supportive rather than negative?
  5. How do you want me to approach you if you don’t follow through with the commitments you make? What would be a good way to bring this up?
  6. If I wasn’t here, how would you resolve this situation?
  7. If we were to switch roles, how would you handle this if you were in my position?
  8. If you couldn’t use this excuse anymore, how would you move forward to achieve the results you want?

Self-Reflective Questions that Get People to Articulate the Cost

  1. If nothing changes, how will this impact you?
  2. What is this costing you (to continue doing things the way you’re doing them)?
  3. If you continue this way, what will it cost you?
  4. When you keep engaging in that behavior, what are the repercussions you may experience?
  5. How does your behavior affect you and those around you?
  6. If you continue doing what you are currently doing, where do you think you will end up?
  7. How does that affect you? What are the implications of not changing?
  8. How do you think this is going to affect your career goals? Your brand? Your reputation? Your team?

Notice what happens when you ask these precision based, well crafted questions. They are creating the rules of the game. Your direct reports are now the ones telling you how they want to be managed, even held accountable. They are also the ones articulating the cost of not changing.

Remember, what people tell themselves, they believe. What you tell them, they resist.

The Culture Shift

The result? Within one month, two under-performing reps (who shouldn’t have been on Sara’s team anyway) resigned. Sara now replaced them with two promising candidates who are a better fit for the position. Three of her top reps, who Sara was scared to coach and challenge further in order to bring out their very best became more open to her coaching because they now were very clear about her intentions, the benefit to them and how her intentions align with each direct report’s personal goals.

Finally, Sara is no longer tolerating any excuses or reasons why a person can’t do something, achieve something, follow through on something or honor their daily responsibilities, routine and sales targets. Creating this “excuse free” zone allows this manager to hold her team accountable in a way she never did before, getting to the root cause of their excuses quickly through better coaching and deeper questioning, rather than letting them off the hook.

Most important, she’s now consistently following through with each of them to ensure they honor the promises and commitments they make. Now, everyone wins!

Photo Credit: Fer Gregory (via Shutterstock)