Leadership Accountability Requires Care, Not Control

People control in various ways. They don’t always rant and rave. They’re not always openly abusive or angry. In fact, whispers can be quite controlling.

The best way to recognize controlling behavior is by your own response to experiencing it.

For example, in a meeting, does the other person do all the talking? Often that’s the best clue: one-way communication. If you’re told what to do—or telling others what to do—chances are you’re in a controlling and ineffective environment. And chances are, high turnover will result.

Some workplace situations require this style—for example, a controlling command style is highly effective in the military, in a busy restaurant, or in a hospital emergency.  Control even has its place in the business world, e.g., in a desperate turnaround situation when a company is fighting for its life.

The problem arises when the command style is used in an ordinary corporate setting. When leaders treat every problem as if it’s a crisis, and treat their team members like soldiers, people eventually get “combat fatigue” and burn out.

Here are the three primary problems with the control style in the business setting:

1) Controlling leaders don’t capitalize on people’s strengths

Mark was the managing partner of a mid-size law firm that had been experiencing high turnover among its associates. Mark hired me to help him become a more effective leader and improve his relationships within his firm.

When I spent a day with Mark at his firm, I observed his coaching session with Colleen, one of his associates. One of the things I noticed was that he jumped in and directed the conversation even when Colleen was trying to make suggestions.

In fact, when I asked him to repeat back some of those suggestions later, Mark couldn’t recall much of what Colleen had contributed.

Like Mark, many leaders are confident, dynamic and intelligent people. They know a lot. They’re busy. They’re aware of the issues and they’re eager to tell their people how to fix the problems.

Yet even leaders with the best of intentions can inadvertently control a meeting and make people feel intimidated, reluctant to speak up or to regret doing so. Unfortunately, their desire to control does not capitalize on their team members’ strengths. It just makes them more dependent. In essence, controlling behavior wastes company resources.

2) Controlling leaders don’t develop talent for the future

Let’s assume for a moment that you can actually have a good relationship with your people while using a controlling style. For argument’s sake, let’s say that they don’t rebel, they don’t ignore you, and they don’t resign.

What will you have a year from now, or two years from now? You’ll have the same team you have right now. They’ll have the exact same skills and abilities—no better. When you control people, you inhibit—even prohibit—their growth and development.

3) Controlling leaders contribute to high turnover

Naturally, talented people want to use their talents. Naturally, intelligent people want to use their brains. Therefore, controlling leaders fail to attract and retain the most talented people.

“Oh, he’s so controlling!” is one of the most common complaints people make about leaders. That’s never a compliment. No one wishes a leader was more controlling.

The caring solution for leadership accountability

What’s the opposite of command and control leadership? Caring. Learning to care, not control, is the second step of the A-C-C Model of Accountability.

Stay with me. This is not “touchy-feely.” It’s simple human caring, and it’s something all people need in order to achieve the goals you want them to achieve. And here’s the most compelling thing about caring: it works.

In their “Firms of Endearment” study, Raj Sisodia (professor of marketing at Bentley College), Jag Sheth (Emory University) and writer David Wolfe sought a correlation between people skills and profits. They began their research with several hundred top firms and examined such measures as: How did each company treat their suppliers, the environment, and their communities? How successful were their CEOs at inspiring their people?

After completing detailed case studies on 60 of these firms, they came up with a list of 35 companies that had the best records. In looking at financial performance, the researchers found that the “firms of endearment” companies (among them, Whole Foods, Costco, Toyota, Best Buy and JetBlue) returned 758% over a 10-year period, versus 128% for the S&P 500. In each case, the researchers reported that the “firms of endearment” companies were led by “CEOs who inspire respect, loyalty, and even affection, rather than fear.”

Think about your own situation. Do you inspire fear or respect? Do you truly care about your people?

When you care about your employees, you hold them accountable with love. It’s being tough-minded and open-hearted at the same time. It’s caring about who your team members are as people. It’s about supporting them as people. It’s about appreciating their strengths, their good will, and their desire to achieve and grow and produce.

But love? Am I really telling you to love your team? Well, yes. I am.

What if you don’t even like them? It may seem esoteric, but try this and see what happens. When you look for the good in people, and open your heart to them, your feelings may change. When you commit to loving them, even if you don’t like them, you may find yourself genuinely feeling more compassionate and more appreciative.

Of course, your kindness may also change them, and change your relationship with them. Love is to people what water is to plants. Love makes people grow, and it makes them healthier. Therefore, even if you don’t like someone, if you make an attempt to love them, that attempt is likely to change you, that other person, and your relationship.

Which of course, is good for business. Kindness works. Caring pays off. Love becomes profitable.

This article was adapted from my book, The Accountability Factor: The Buck Starts Here. You can get your own copy at: