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Set a Standard of High Expectations with Accountability

Advice for Women in Leadership

Professional ball teams with a chance of getting to the championship set high performance standards for their team members. It is imperative that professional women in leadership positions do the same in business.

It has been my experience in consulting with organizations the past seven years that few business leaders are consistent enough in communicating job performance expectations. Even fewer do a good job of holding their employees accountable to the expected job performance. This is a lesson women business leaders must learn.

The reason this is an important area for business women to focus on is that a recent study of thirty-four thousand employees showed 60 percent of those who reported their companies were doing too little to correct poor employee performance said they were not positively engaged in their work. On the flip side the survey showed that 73 percent who believed their company did address poor performers were positively engaged in their work.

On championship athletic teams, poor performance is not tolerated. Under performers are held accountable and replaced. Although in the business world it is more difficult to replace employees from a practical, tactical and legal standpoint, professional women need to understand that it should be just as easy to set clear expectations for employees and hold them accountable to those performance expectations.

If a standard of high expectations is the norm within a company culture, team members that are a fit for that type of culture appreciate the fact that they and their team members are held to a high standard and, as such, will participate in holding each other accountable to the standard.

Another key for women in leadership positions to remember is that they must also hold themselves to the same high standards expected of others in the organization. They must model the behavior they expect from their team members. The quickest way to lose the engagement of otherwise positive, high-performing employees is to show up with a “do as I say, not as I do” leadership style.

At a leadership conference many years ago, I heard retired Army General Norman Schwartzkopf give a keynote address in which he discussed this very subject, saying, “Successful organizations set high standards. When high standards are set and clearly communicated, more times than not, people will work to meet and even exceed those standards.” This is the foundation of any championship team.

In working with both male and female business leaders, I’ve noticed two challenges to applying this approach. The first is that leaders fail to set and communicate the high performance standards for fear of being seen as too demanding or autocratic. The second, which is related to the first, is the fear of not being liked.

I’ve learned from my own personal experience that it is much better to be respected than liked. If, as a business leader, you try to be liked, you will end up being neither liked nor respected. If you lead by communicating clear expectations with specific accountabilities and you give your people the latitude to learn from their mistakes while celebrating and reinforcing their wins, you will be both respected and liked.

This is the reputation to which professional women on their way to leadership roles should be aspiring.