How do you raise the responsibility level and accountability level of those you are leading?
Our customers often ask us to support their managers in taking on more responsibility or becoming better at getting their team members to take more responsibility. But how do we lead people to take more responsibility of themselves and their learning and growth? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms of trying to lead people to be more self-leading?
In my experience, it usually does not help to ask or tell people to take more responsibility or be more independent. You can, of course, give more responsibility to someone by handing over new tasks and roles. Still, then there is the question of whether the receiver will take on the responsibility and ownership that you as a manager are giving. Taking on a shared responsibility – a task, a role, anything is still not the same as taking ownership, let alone, becoming self-led and take ownership both of the task at hand, as well as of your own growth.
Giving and taking responsibility through business coaching
Studying and practising business coaching has given me new insights on how to support others to take more responsibility and the subtle mechanisms of giving and taking responsibility in a manager – subordinate relationship.
01 There is a big difference in using a coaching style of leadership, rather than instructing people on what to do, to raise the level of responsibility. Coaching as a managerial tool or philosophy is about seeing and thinking of people in terms of their potential, not their current performance. In essence, this means that as a manager you should take a more positive view on the dormant capabilities of all people, the kind you can see in, e.g. a crisis when people exceed both their own and everybody else’s expectations.
02 Coaching as a method revolves around asking good questions. John Whitmore, one of the founding fathers of business coaching (Book tip: Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore), sees that the central goal of coaching is for the coach to build awareness and responsibility and instil self-belief in the coachee:
- The idea behind building awareness is that a person can control only what he or she is aware of, while that of which one is unaware controls the mind. Thus raising awareness and clarity of things that may seem fuzzy or of which the coachee is not aware of becomes important goals of the coaching process.
- To build and enhance responsibility by asking questions gives the coachee the possibility to choose the options of action. This makes it more likely to be something he or she is willing and able to do and take responsibility of, as opposed to when when a person is told what to do. When, e.g. a manager tells a subordinate what to do and how, it becomes the manager’s responsibility that the solution was a good one – not the employee’s.
- Self-belief is key to performance, as winning is a state of mind. Thus, the underlying goal of all coaching is to raise the self-belief of the coachee to dare to reach the full potential.
03 Practicing coaching is very hard, as managing others often entail a good dose of problem-solving and giving fast solutions, whereas in coaching, you ask questions that supports the coachee to find the solutions themselves. The rewarding thing about this approach is the surprising and unexpected solutions coachees come up with when supported to take responsibility themselves.
Coaching is often counter intuitive to the way and reasons people progress on a managerial career – being resourceful, fast at finding answers and drawing conclusions, good at solving problems. In coaching the opposite holds true, as the joke goes: “A good coach is stupid, lazy and slow”.
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About the author
Pernilla Gripenberg Ph.D. is a certified business coach and has twenty years of experience in business education from basic to MBA and executive levels in a variety of areas in management and leadership. She has extensive experience in co-designing some of the most ground-breaking and innovative leadership development programmes together with Hanken & SSE’s clients. As programme director and workshop facilitator with a positive and engaging approach, she has been highly appreciated by clients and participants. Her recent focus has been on self and people leadership grounded in positive psychology and neuroscience: self-leadership and personal efficiency, leading for top performance, change leadership, and communication and presentation skills. Another area she is passionate about is organisational culture and cross-cultural communication.