Peer Group Accountability: Who’s Responsible?

In workshops I’ve been conducting with CEO and executive peer groups across the country recently, group members are challenged to assess their overall performance (and develop an action plan for improvement) using the five factors common to high performing peer groups as described in The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success.  The five factors are 1) having the right people in the room, 2) promoting a safe and confidential environment, 3) fostering valuable interaction, 4) practicing group accountability, and 5) having excellent servant leadership.  You’ll find brief descriptions of each of the five factors here.

The richest conversations in these workshops tend to focus on how to create and sustain a disciplined culture of group accountability – what many group leaders regard to be among the most important, if not THE most important, of the five factors.  This essentially means that group members hold one another accountable for doing what they say they will do (DWTSTWD) to achieve their goals.  It’s not about accountability to the leader, it’s about accountability to one another.

Yet, to address weaknesses in this area, which are quite common, the tendency of some members is to offer recommendations and action items for the leader.  Of course, this is antithetical to what group accountability really means, right?.   While the leader can set the tone and serve as a backstop when necessary, the leader should not play the role of implementer and enforcer.  If the group wants to practice what it preaches, it can’t cede its responsibility to the leader.  It’s up to the individual members and the group as a whole.  Unless they take the lead, it will never take hold, nor be very effective.

Let me illustrate the point.  If I, as an individual member, bring up an issue or opportunity for discussion with my group and take 45-minutes of their time, benefiting from their experiences and guidance, and declare the action(s) I’m prepared to take based on the conversation, isn’t it my responsibility to offer a status update at the next meeting?   Shouldn’t I be the accountability driver?  Isn’t that the least I can do for the gift I received from my fellow members?  Group accountability has to start with me.

Now, let’s say the next meeting comes along, and I don’t volunteer a status update.  It could be because I didn’t do what I said I would do at the last meeting and maybe I’m a bit embarrassed by that.  I might not say anything in the hope I can slide and no one will notice.  Not a good strategy because it only negatively impacts me and, worse yet, eats away at the culture of the group.  The right thing to do is for me to own up to it and say I’ll do better next month.  (It’s not the end of the world and at least I’m being honest with my group).   Or, it simply slips my mind to report on my action items from the last meeting.  In that instance, the next line of defense rests with the group.  After all, the other members, all of whom are committed to group accountability, should be interested enough in my progress, given the valuable time they spent helping me at the last meeting, to say, “Hey, Leo.  Tell us how your new initiative is coming along?”

If neither I, nor the group, offer an update or fail to ask about it, it would then be up to the leader to ask me why I didn’t initiate the conversation and then to challenge the group by asking, “How is it that not one of you thought to ask?  You can’t have a culture of group accountability unless everyone in the group is committed to it.”  This is what I mean by the leader serving as the backstop.

For group accountability to become ingrained in the group culture, the individual members and the group as a whole have to accept it as their responsibility.   If this is not the dynamic in your peer group today, give it a try and, over time, watch peer group accountability improve and see how everyone starts to achieve even better results.

“And the Oscar Goes To”…The Year of the Peer

The prevailing sentiment of the Year of the Peer was evident in its full splendor at the 2017 Academy Awards, as host Jimmy Kimmel opened the show with a monologue, that in part, called for greater civility in our dialogue.  I also loved how the attendees celebrated peers who inspired their careers, as well as the way they applauded each others’ work with what I believed to be a heightened spirit of enthusiasm.  In this Year of the Peer, Hollywood was pitch perfect.

Several of the advertisers followed suit in impressive fashion by sharing messages about the power of love and understanding to the millions of people around the world following the live broadcast.  Here are two of the spots below.  Enjoy and let’s be sure to carry this forward in our own lives in the months and years ahead.

It’s a fitting time to remember the words of Jodie Foster‘s character, Ellie Arroway, in the movie Contact, “I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.”  That it is.

Name-calling and Our Pernicious Public Discourse

When I grew up, kids called each other names for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is they were not particularly equipped to do much else.  That’s how they covered for their own lack of knowledge and insecurities.  Most of us left this childish behavior behind.  Over time, society asked more of us – that we actually had to offer something that didn’t involve name-calling or ad hominem attacks.  We were expected to make our case on the merits in a fashion that inspired thoughtful debate.  Unfortunately, that’s all changed.

In 2016, we were introduced to “Crooked Hillary” and “Dorito Mussolini”.  More recently, U.S. Intelligence veteran Malcom Nance identified Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller as a “Baby Goebbels.”   Grown-ups are now behaving like 8-year-olds, and I’m pretty sure that today’s kids are modeling this behavior more than ever.  After all, it’s not like the name-calling is just coming from crazy Uncle Dave; it’s coming from the mouths of government leaders and political pundits on every media platform.  It’s only a matter of time before we’ll turn on CNN, FOX News or MSNBC to bear witness to a debate that is reduced to the Pee-wee Herman loop, “I know you are, but what am I?”

During the Year of the Peer, we have to expect more of our leaders.  Don’t we?  Check out James Hoggan’s book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up.  He says, “The most pressing environmental problem we face today is not climate change. It is pollution in the public square, where a smog of adversarial rhetoric, propaganda, and polarization stifles discussion and debate, creating resistance to change and thwarting our ability to solve our collective problems.”

If we’re ever going to turn it around, Hoggan adds, “It is important to recognize that in a time when mistrust and polarization have soared to all-time highs, conversations aimed at injecting information into people in order to cure them of their misunderstanding will fail.”

Have a look at David Biggs’ terrific interview with James Hoggan and consider grabbing a copy of the book.  Maybe if we made it required reading for all leaders, they would actually start to act their own age.

What do you think and how can we fix it?


100 Consecutive Wins – Life in Stage 5!

Moments ago, the #1 ranked University of Connecticut women’s basketball team defeated #6 South Carolina 66-55 for its 100th consecutive victory.  To put this perspective, the team hasn’t lost a game since November 17, 2014.  Last year, their big three, seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck were drafted by the WNBA, number 1, 2 and 3 respectively.  After losing the players who led the Huskies to four consecutive national championships, this would have been a rebuilding year for any other sports program in America – except for UConn.  They’re already 25-0 this season, beating nationally ranked opponents Notre Dame, Baylor, Maryland, Florida State, Ohio State, and now South Carolina, with no one left of the regular season schedule likely to give them a serious challenge until the NCAA tournament.

Why should organizations outside of sports be marveling at the streak and paying close attention to this program?  Let me offer this:

Several years ago, I heard Dave Logan deliver a terrific presentation based on a book he coauthored called Tribal Leadership.  Among other things, he talked about the five stages of culture.  Here are the five stages as I recall them:

Stage 1 – “Life sucks.” Roughly 2% of companies have cultures that represent something akin to a prison gang.  (Scary but, true).

Stage 2 – “My life sucks.” The implication here is that people are likely to believe that your life may be okay, but my life sucks.   (25%) of companies have cultures where people pretty much show up and do just enough to avoid getting fired.  They can’t wait until 5:00 PM – especially on a Friday.

Stage 3 – “I’m great.” (with an implied, “and you’re not.”)  This culture is characterized by an egotistical, command and control style leader who creates dyad relationships with the employees. (49% of organizational cultures fit this description, by the way).

Stage 4 – “We’re great.”  22% of organizations enjoy a team culture that wants to be the best as defined by their competition.  They’re all about being #1 among everyone else in their space.

Stage 5 – “Life is great.”  This is the organizational culture that sets its own standard of excellence.  Think Secretariat at the Belmont.  Logan noted that roughly 2% of organizations experience this rarefied air, but no one lives there for very long.  They typically toggle between stages 4 and 5.

Dave Logan, meet the University of Connecticut women’s basketball program.

UConn players, and the coaching staff who created this culture over the past 30 years, compare themselves to the great UConn teams of the past, not to the teams on their upcoming schedule.   They set their own standard of excellence each and every day at practice and with every possession – offensively and defensively – in every game.  Rather than pay attention to the scoreboard, they honor the work ethic of UConn’s former players and are committed to making the dream of winning a national championship possible for their teammates.  Their accountability culture and support for one another is off the charts.  They will lose a game someday, but as long as they maintain their culture, it won’t happen very often.

This is what living in stage five looks like.  Close your eyes and imagine your organization playing at UConn’s level.  Now open them.  Life is great!  (Or it could be, if you take the power of their example seriously).

Congratulations to UConn for winning 100 consecutive games and for setting a standard of excellence for all of us to follow.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Why the Media Should Not Post Photos of Killers

We woke up Sunday morning to the news of an unspeakable tragedy. It was described both as an act of terrorism and a monstrous expression of hate.  The footage outside the nightclub was surreal, as witnesses shared the horror of the event across all the television news networks.  Social media was on fire.

That said, the coverage took an unfortunate turn when photos of the killer were splashed everywhere.  You could even characterize some of these images as glam shots, with one of the photos showing this guy in a NYPD t-shirt.  My question is:  Why?  He didn’t escape the scene.  It’s not as if he were at-large.  If that were the case, revealing his identity would have been helpful for apprehending the terrorist in the soonest possible time.

But because of the bravery of law enforcement on the scene, the guy was dead.  All the media were doing by revealing his identity, and showing multiple images of him over and over again, was turning this guy into a celebrity – an outcome that is not only unworthy of the killer and its many victims, but also one that is known to “inspire similar acts of violence.”   It’s why copycats do what they do.  If you want to be famous and you don’t care what you have to do to make that possible, then the media are all too often willing accomplices.  This has to stop.   The last thing we want to do is incite more acts of terrorism.

The power of peers can be an incredible force for good, yet it also has a dark side.  While being personally incensed at the coverage, I examined a number of articles that confirmed my suspicions that turning an unknown killer into a household name and, in effect, a permanent entry into the history books is not unfounded.   Here are three articles that touch specifically on this topic:

The first television station that announces it will no longer post images of the terrorist and make him the story will get me as a viewer for life.   If you join me, maybe this is how we can use the power of peers as an instrument of good.

Where in the World Is The Power of Peers?

The power of peers is everywhere!  It’s present in every corner of the globe, whether you live in a high context culture (Japan/China) or a lower context culture (United States/United Kingdom).*  With this in mind, I’m taking The Power of Peers on the road – on a European book tour of sorts.  Okay, to be more precise, it’s not part of the ACTUAL book tour; however, I do plan to bring it with me to a number of incredible European cities over the course of a 12-day trip starting later this week.

On select days during my time overseas, I’ll post clues on Twitter and LinkedIn as to the The Power of Peers’ whereabouts.  Be the first to guess the location of The Power of Peers (the book) on a particular day,  and I’ll send you a signed copy upon my return!  I will announce the winners publicly on Twitter and LinkedIn on the following day – keep that in mind if you choose to enter.  Once it’s been announced that you won, please contact me directly with your mailing address (which of course will remain confidential).

We know the power of peers is everywhere; my copy of The Power of Peers could be anywhere.  I look forward to your joining me on the trip!

*If you’re interested in learning more about high and low context cultures, check out the book Beyond Culture by Edward T. Hall!