How Leaders Can Inspire Accountability with Michael Timms

Reading Time: 20 Minutes

In this interview with Michael Timms, he shares how you can prompt those you lead to solve problems independently.

After the Interview:

About Michael Timms

Michael is a leadership development consultant, author, and speaker specializing in succession planning and creating accountable cultures. His latest book is How Leaders Can Inspire Accountability.

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This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview


Deliberate Leaders I am Allison Dunn, your host, Executive Coach and Founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode, we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. I am very pleased to introduce our guest today. Today we have with us Michael Timm’s is a leadership development consultant, author and speaker specializing in creating accountable cultures. His latest book is How Leaders Can Inspire Accountability. Michael, thank you so much for joining us here today.


Thanks a lot. Allison. I’m super excited to be here with you.


Awesome, I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. So would you share with us your number one leadership tip for our listeners?


Oh, my goodness, my number one leadership tip, I would have to say that my, if I could just give one little tip to anybody in the leadership position, it would be it would be this. Ask for feedback regularly. And the reason why I say that is a couple of reasons. Number one, when we get it put into a leadership position, we, because of power dynamics and organizational behavior, people start to act weird around us. And they see they don’t give us feedback that we actually need to hear. And everybody’s probably talking about this one thing that we all need to hear. Or that we need to hear. But because we don’t ask for it, we’re never going to hear it. And, and that’s not good. But so, so one is good for self awareness. And to figure out how you can improve, but the other reason why I suggest you ask for feedback regularly is to create psychological safety. Because again, people feel a little bit more nervous a little bit more. You know, they watch what they say a little bit more around their boss. And that’s actually not good. You want to have total psychological safety so that people can, you know, feel free to focus on the things that matter most and just get to work and not worry about, about saving face or anything, anything like that. So I would say that asking for feedback on a regular basis is probably the most important thing you can do as a leader to a become a better leader, learn how to become a leader, better leader and create that, that psychological safety.


I think that’s a fantastic tip. And I have to admit like I feel like most people, I’m sure do you ask for feedback, or let’s say someone has not in a long time or from someone? How do you open that conversation when you’re the leader? And you do want that honest feedback? Can you give it at that up?


Yeah, so that’s a great question. I’m so glad you asked that. So it’s really important. Like, there’s a bad way to ask, well, there’s a lot of bad ways to ask for feedback. One of the worst ways is, do you have any feedback for me? Because the answer is no, or I can’t think of any right now. But what the way you want to tee that up is that and I’m actually I like the way that you said that Allison is how do you tee that up and the way that you in to me, it’s about setting expectations. And I think you need to set expectations in any key relationship. Whether that’s, you know, as a manager, as an employee, or even employee with their manager, heck, even with your neighbors, I think it’s important to set the expectation of feedback, and to say, hey, look, I want to be the best manager I can be, I want to be the best neighbor, I can be. Hey, anytime that you have something that you want to tell me, I really would like to hear it. And so you’re giving them the why the why is because I want to be better. And when you set that expectation up, at first, then it makes it way more easy. And people aren’t surprised they aren’t caught off guard. But when you do ask, it’s important to follow Marshall Goldsmith advice, and instead of saying, Do you have any feedback for me, you ask about a specific area. And you say, you know, hey, how can I do better at facilitating meetings? Or, you know, how am I doing? How am I living the corporate values? And where do you think I could do better in living the corporate values, right, that gives people something specific and that’s that makes it just way easier to actually get really helpful advice.


Yeah, thank you for kind of giving listeners a few ways to think about that. I think that’s very helpful. So your topic your book, how leaders can inspire accountability, accountability is sometimes this a little bit of elusive idea. And so I’m curious I didn’t share this with you but I would love your definition of what accountability is.


Yeah, again, Greg, I’m glad you asked that, to kind of tee up this conversation about accountability. Because I agree, Allison, that that a lot of a lot of people. You know, I asked this question of people in leadership positions, and I asked people not in leadership positions, what is your definition of accountability? And you’re right, there is a, there’s a lot of different answers. For the most part people are, especially when you’re in leadership position, they’re saying, Oh, it’s, you know, it’s a good thing, we want more of it. But some people have some negative feelings about accountability. And so one of the first things that we that I do when I’m teaching people about accountability is to let’s get let’s get on the same page as far as what accountability is, and the way I define accountability is taking ownership of results, and working to improve future results. So hey, whatever is going on here, I’m going to own it. Okay, whether it’s good or whether it’s bad. And, and really, why do I own it? That’s the second part of the definition to improve future results. Because you cannot improve future results until you take ownership of your present situation.


Yeah, I think that’s kind of that drives the whole point of when you can have someone be accountable, you have to know what you’re aiming at, for sure. Let’s actually dive into that a little bit. I’m thinking, you know, we’re leading a community through goal setting for 2022, and all of the plans. And so with that in mind, what are some of the ways that leaders can help set realistic and effective goals for which they can be accountable in the new year?


Yeah, I think that, like my specialty isn’t, isn’t really goal setting. But one of the key ways one of the key components or ingredients of creating accountability is to is to assess how did things go? And what can we do to improve future results. And I think, really the way to set up goal setting. And actually, the way that I would conduct a performance review is not that’s not the time to actually give feedback. The time to give feedback is in the past, okay, it’s over. When you’re at the year end review. What you should be doing is talking about past successes, lessons learned, and what we can do to change the future to make it a little bit better. And so the way that I would conduct that, that end of your review to set up the next year for success, and to facilitate that discussion about goal setting is to ask a few questions. Number one, what went well? So from your perspective, Allison, what do you think went well, last year, right. And then the next question is, okay, that’s awesome. Here are some other things that I think went well, great. Now, the next question is, what do you think that we can do? Or you can do or that the two of us can do to make sure that those good things continue to happen in the new year? And that’s going to give you some ideas about okay, well, these are some of the things that I need to do is to set some goals to continue the successes. Great. Next question I would ask is, okay, well, what do you think didn’t go so well, last year? And so you give your answers. I would also, I might say, Yeah, and you know, what? This? Here’s another thing that I saw that I noticed that I didn’t think, you know, went really well. How do you feel about that? And then the next question is, what do you think we can do to make sure that those don’t happen in the next year? And so it’s not about you and your performance? It’s about really about the future? And how can we how, what process processes or systems can we implement to make the future better than the past? And I think that’s really the way to facilitate that discussion about goal setting, and some beautiful goals are going to come out of that. Those questions. Another. Another great question, actually, when you’re setting up this discussion for goal setting, that all managers all managers should ask in the year and review is, hey, how can I better support you? What can I do differently to better support you next year than I did last year? And so I like I said, I think those questions will really facilitate great dialogue.


Fantastic, I think, good pointers and tips. I know, in answering that question, you said, you know, feedback is for in the past, right? Because you can’t change. So in goal setting, I completely agree. We’re also at that point in the year where people are asking for giving performance reviews and reflection of the year. Can you can you give leaders tips on how to give a performance feedback, especially in a remote work setting? For remote workers?


Yeah, so my number one tip for remote workers and managers, I mean, I, my assistant has been working with me for the last four years she’s been remote she works in a different city. And to a certain extent, I kind of because I know the world is like, oh my gosh, how do I manage report remote workers. And you know, there’s tons of articles and tons of advice out there. We’re not having that problem, because we’ve been remote this whole time. And one simple trick to manage remote workers, is have weekly one on one meetings with everybody who reports to you that one tip, I promise you, is the most valuable tip that you will ever hear for managing remote workers or managing people in general. And honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re, if I’m talking to you over zoom, or from talking to face to face for sure. I mean, face to face is more fun, and you can, you know, maybe feel people’s energy a little bit more face to face. But for the most part, it totally works over zoom. And really what you’re trying to do in those meetings is you’re trying to you’re talking about, first of all, it’s reserved time for that employee to get what they need from you, their manager, because I hear managers say, Well, I talked to my employees, like every day, why do I need to do a weekly one on one meeting? Well, it’s not for you dummy. It’s for your man, or it’s for your employee. Okay, it’s their time to get what they need from you. And so, sorry, I’m not calling your listeners dummies. But I’m, so what I’m saying is, so that that that would be kind of the number one tip or and part of me and the content of that meeting is in addition to giving your employees what they need from you, you’re also reviewing, you know, what were the assignments from last week? How are we doing on those assignments? What are the assignments within new assignments, that’s also time where you can talk about your goals, what are your longer term strategic goals. And, and that’s a time to give feedback. And when I say give feedback, my very first tip on giving feedback, especially to remote workers, to any workers was actually the very first tip that I gave you, what’s my number one leadership tip, ask for feedback. Because the problem is, is you might have the formal authority to give your employees feedback. But you don’t have the moral authority, until you have demonstrated that feedback is a gift that you want feedback. And so when you have demonstrated, hey, this is a feedback, I want this to be a feedback rich relationship. This is a feedback rich culture. I want your feedback because I think it helps me improve, I know it will help me improve. And when I’ve demonstrated that, that’s when I have the moral authority to provide feedback. So that’s probably my number one tip. But when you’re actually giving feedback, there is a very simple solution, I’m going to advertise a different book other than my book. I have changed this a little bit. But there are a ton of feedback models out there. And they are there there’s and I’ve, I’ve researched a lot of them. A huge portion of and I can tell you, there is one feedback model that works better than just about anything else. And that is the model that’s in the book, Crucial Conversations. There is no better feedback model because they get one really important concept, right? Most people go into feedback, conversations, thinking, Okay, I’ve got a message. And me providing feedback is simply me delivering that message and then running away, and they got to deal with it. That is not the way feedback works. Feedback is a dialogue. And the reason why it’s a dialogue is because you as the manager, believe it or not, you do not have a monopoly on the truth. Do you have a perspective, it’s a valuable perspective. But you might not know all of the facts surrounding the issue that you’re about to give feedback on. So my advice is, after you have asked for feedback and demonstrated as a gift, there’s really four, four additional steps, I would say, number one, ask about the situation, say, hey, how do you feel that meeting went last yesterday, right? Or last week or whatever, and, and get their input on, you know, how they felt it went? But then you share your observation, which is step number two is share your observation, say, hey, you know, this is what I’ve noticed. When you’re in that meeting, you I noticed that you kind of shut down any you know, some of some of the people there, and it kind of I felt that it it kind of truncated the meeting and ended the meeting before everybody got a chance to be heard.


But then the next step is really important. And that is to ask for their perspective and to say, that’s what I noticed. Am I missing anything? Or was there any other reason? You know why you might have done that? And then give them an opportunity to explain But then the fourth step is simply to say, hey, let’s come to a, let’s come to some sort of agreement about how do we move forward from this? How do we make sure that good things happen, you know, more good things happen and fewer bad things happen. But that’s really the point is that when you’re giving feedback, you have to come in recognizing you do not have all the facts. And you need to come into it as an investigator saying, I have a perspective, this is what I’ve noticed. You know, is that what you’ve noticed as well? Or am I missing anything here? And you avoid looking foolish? When they tell you something? That is like, Oh, I totally didn’t know that. And it totally explains what you’re talking about. Right? So but if you come in there guns blazing, I’ve got some, I got some feedback I’m gonna give you then, then you’re in for a tough, tough conversation, that’s not going to go very well.


And my god, I really appreciate that I think I get the benefit of asking yours to reflect on how certain things went. And they do they, they, we, we make a lot of assumptions about what they think has gone on. And, and I’m like, it’s really important that you ask them, right, you know, how did they think it went on? Because I’m sometimes the intermediary? And I’m just like, you know, that’s a really great question for that person. Like to find out how they thought it went to, you know, you may have thought it was terrible, but there could be a really good reason, or it was, you know, off key or off putting, or it shut people down, or whatever may have happened. Right. So, I love that. I think that’s like gold today. So thank you, like, you guys enjoyed it? Yeah.


Um, so I think that that is something that you have to build in as a habit, as a leader to kind of go into everything a little bit more curious than assuming that you kind of like, I already know the answer to something. What, what are some of the other habits that not only make better leaders, but it also inspires everyone to take more ownership for their work? What tips do you have on that or habits?


Yeah, so I mean, the book that I wrote how leaders can inspire accountability is, really is a book about three really powerful habits, that, number one, make you a better leader, but also have this kind of magical effect, in that it really inspires other people to want to take more accountability as well, when you demonstrate these habits as a leader. And I call these habits the three habits of personal accountability. When I am explaining accountability, when I’m speaking about accountability to executive teams, or, you know, in any, in any setting, a lot of times when we think about accountability, we’re usually thinking about how do we make that person more accountable. And, and I actually and I do a little funny experiment, when I’m speaking, especially to executive teams to CEO groups, I’ll ask them, hey, you know what, there’s three different kinds of domains, ways that you can influence accountability within an organization, you can influence it based on your own your own example, you can influence accountability by how you hold other people accountable. And you can influence accountability or from an organization’s standpoint by putting in place certain conditions. What would you like to learn about? Well, that’s a trick. I’m not I’m actually I, well, actually, in the way I phrase it is, if you had the choice about what to learn about, or the, you know, like, next hour or so what would you like to learn? And they always, well, actually, let’s put it this way. They never say, I would like to learn how to be a better example of accountability myself never analyzed, I’ve asked that question, comprising over 50 over 50. It’s got to be close to 100, CEO groups with 15 CEOs, you know, so it’s like, we’re over 1000. CEOs have asked that question, too. And, and they never say, I want to learn a better how to be a better example. But the irony is, that is the most impactful way to influence accountability within your organization. That’s the most impactful way that you can get other people to take more accountability. And here’s why. Here are the three habits they are mind blowingly simple, but they are all three of them go completely the opposite of what we are actually naturally wired to do. So the three habits personal accountability, or this habit number one, don’t blame. Why? Because blame kills accountability, it kills accountability in you, and it kills accountability in everybody else. It kills accountability in you because when you’re blaming other people or circumstances for your problems, you know, you can’t influence the outcome. If it’s always if it’s if it’s somebody else’s causing your problems, you have no control over that person while you’re just going to be hooked for the rest of your life. Right. But as soon as you start to, you know, not blame and take ownership for problems. That’s when you have some measure of control, but it kills accountability in others, because nobody is going to take accountability if they think they’re going to be blamed for it. And that’s the key thing. That is the number one piece of advice I have for if you if you’re in a management position or leadership position, you want other people to take more accountability, stop blaming them when things go wrong. Because the more you blame them, the less likely they will be to say, You know what, that was my bad. They just won’t do it. They’ll be like, it was his bad. He did it, or the dog ate my homework. Right? That’s what you’re going to get. Habit number two is look in the mirror and look in the mirror is saying how did I contribute to this problem? Now we didn’t usually our brains are wired to say, you know, one person or, or this one thing is caused my problems. The reality is, is a lot of things combined to cause your problems. And often you’re part of it, often you’ve done something or not done something that’s contributed to your problems. That would be Habit number two. And so the way you do that is you say, anytime you encounter a problem, number one, don’t blame number two, ask this question. How may I have contributed to this problem?


And when you when you actually ask that question, and get an answer, acknowledge it and say, You know what, folks, this is how I think I’ve contributed to the problem. And you know, what’s going to magically happen, I know it’s gonna blow your mind, but it happens. When you say, this is how I think I contribute to the problem. Other people start to go, no, no, it wasn’t just your fault. This is how I think I contributed to the problem, which is precisely the behavior that we want to see another people. Habit number three is engineer the solution, which means stop trying to fix people focus on fixing the processes, and look for systems solutions. And that’s really, when you take a look at people who really own the results who are really accountable people, you will see those three habits being demonstrated, they don’t blame. They acknowledge how they have contributed to the problem. And they don’t try to, you know, train human fallibility out of human beings, they say, how can we make this process better, so that we don’t make these mistakes again? There you go.


Awesome. Habit tips. Thank you. Do you find that? Do you do you feel as that the leader needs to come up with the solution fix? Or can it be groupthink


around that? Yeah, you know what, that’s a fantastic point. And really the key to Habit number three, which is engineer the solution is to ask the question, where did the process breakdown? So you’re not the one thanks for pointing that out. I’m glad you pointed that out. You know, the leader is not the one the person in the management position usually should not be the one fixing the problems, right? Or more solving the problems. They’re the ones who are asking the question, and engaging everybody’s frontal cortex instead of triggering their amygdala by saying, who’s to blame? Who’s at fault here? Right?


Question always conjures up blame instantaneously? Or why the why is also a good Bleem question to start with, as well. For sure, um, I, I know that the news is talking about, you know, a lot of, you know, people leaving the workforce and, you know, this mass exodus out of out of corporate world, and I know that people are sometimes in their office and work going, should I be leaving, you know, am I missing this trend? So, my next question, hopefully helps, like, bring this out for a question. But how can you tell if your leadership is failing? Yeah.


If I am a leader, how can I tell that I’m a bad leader? You are a leader in your in your in the organization, but you’re still looking to leadership and how can you tell they’re failing? You were failing? Yeah. You know, look, the one of the key responsibilities of leadership is to is to provide a clear understanding of what are we trying to do here? What is our goal? What is our purpose? What are our priorities? What are our values? If you can’t recite your company’s purpose off by heart? That’s a problem. That’s a communication problem from up top. If you can’t explain your strategy by saying these are our top three or four strategic priorities, that’s a problem. That’s a lack of direction from your from your leaders. But actually something just recently in the news, just Yes. On Friday. Guy, CEO from I don’t know if you heard about this guy’s seat CEO from the Fired 900 People over zoom. Did you hear about that?


No, no. Do Tom work?



Yeah. So and with the Office The news articles are like this is this is just the latest in this guy’s history of bad leadership. But it talks about it talks about the toxic culture that he had in his organization, where of course he would blame, you know, anything anytime things went wrong, he would blame people. He would, was abusive. Would you know, you are you’re stupid. And actually in company wide emails, you are dumb, dumb, dumb, stop it stop, stop you making me look bad and stuff like this. And it’s like, you’ve got to be kidding me. And I’m just like, Why does anybody work for this guy?


It does make you ask the question. So that would be when leaders are failing us?


Yes, absolutely. That is failing us. Yes. And so if you if your leaders tolerate blame, if they tolerate bullying, if they demean people, and openly disrespect people, that’s a sign that your leadership is failing you. And you know what? That’s the time to jump ship praise. You Life is too short, to stick around with a company and to and to, it affects you psychologically, it affects you physically, and you bring that home with you. Life is too short, don’t work for work for leaders, who are people in leadership positions who, who created a toxic environment.


Excellent advice. I think the age old question is what are some of the questions that you can ask when you’re bringing leaders into your organization? So how do you how do you like? What are the questions that you can ask that can help identify whether it’s a good corporate leadership and values fits for a company that creates more accountability and ownership?


So if I’m interviewing somebody, for a leadership position in the organization, yeah. I’ll tell you what, one of the, the most, this is kind of indirectly answering your question. The way to assess if it’s a if it’s a fit, of course, you know, design some questions around your values, like what are your values? Design some questions about, hey, how have you lived these values before? You know, why do these values resonate with you? But what all organizations do I One of my specialties is succession planning. And I help organizations develop a process for promoting people from within. And one of the very first things that I suggest to clients is that they, they identify their leadership competencies. Now, most organizations, their leadership competencies, or this unwieldly matrix that describes not just the perfect leader, but the perfect human being who does not exist, nor do the incumbent leaders look anything like the leadership competency model that they have articulated on paper. That’s not what I’m talking about before. And of course you have, right. So that’s not helpful in interviewing people for leadership positions. What is helpful is if you if you identify look, of all of the me there’s a bazillion books out there about how to be a better leader, I’m sure you know, most of them have really good advice. But look, there are for sure, not all leadership behaviors have the same impact on people, or results. Some leadership behaviors really have a much stronger impact on people on results. What are those few high impact leadership behaviors in your organization? That’s what leaders need to be asking themselves. And what I do with clients is I help them the way that I help them discover those leadership competencies is to reverse engineer their success stories. And once we once we, once we hear enough of these stories, and we facilitate focus groups, and we hear a lot of these stories, we put the data on the table, we start to see patterns emerge. But what were the behaviors that led to these successful outcomes and these positive impacts on people and results? Once you’ve done that, that should be your criteria for promotion, your criteria for recruiting into leadership positions and in fact, my clients do not promote anybody into a leadership position unless the executive depending on how large the organization is, but unless the executive team unanimously agrees that this individual is demonstrating those leadership counts. agencies, you know, to a sufficient degree. And, and that is the best advice that I can give to give to people in leadership positions to ensure that you’re hiring the right people. And don’t go by your gut. Oh, yeah, I think because what happens is when you go off your gut, you’re going to hire people who look like leaders who dominate the discussions, who are ultra confident, who you know, are super decisive, even when I have zero information, right? And they get into leadership positions, and then you’re like, wait a minute, this person sucks, like, I don’t want to, I don’t want to report to this person. And I feel bad for anybody else who’s reporting to that person. So don’t go with your gut. Don’t try to build the you know, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster competency model to build the perfect leader, just focus on the few high impact leadership behaviors that really make the biggest difference in your organization.


Excellent. Thank you, Michael. I would love for you to share, what are the best ways for people to follow or connect with you and to get more information.


So my website is make full use of the leadership that you’ve been given. But nothing is. So here’s my book, how leaders can inspire accountability. And if you want to learn more about what I teach, I strongly recommend that you that you check out that book on Amazon or anywhere else that that you buy books. And, and if you do make it to my website, I send out regular blog posts and articles. And you can subscribe to that. So yeah, I’m sure that I’m sure that your listeners would give what I know about you, Allison, I we’re on we’re on the same wavelength. I’m sure your listeners would like some of that stuff, too that some of the some of the principles that I share.


Fantastic I will make sure that include a link to your book in the show notes as well as to your website. Michael, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been truly a pleasure speaking with you.


It’s been awesome speaking to you too. Allison, thanks so much for having me on your show.


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