How important is a culture of accountability in an organization? What role do leaders have to play to foster this accountability? What does accountable leadership mean for the performance of a company? Vince Molinaro, Ph.D., the Founder and CEO of Leadership Contract Inc., answers these questions as he joins Melanie Parish on the show. A successful author, speaker, leadership adviser, and researcher, Vince has helped create one of the leading brands in the human capital industry. He has recently released his latest book, Accountable Leaders, which he and Melanie dissect in this conversation.
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Modeling Accountable Leadership In Your Organization With Dr. Vince Molinaro
I'm here with Vince Molinaro, PhD. He's the Founder and CEO of Leadership Contract, Inc. He's an author, speaker, leadership advisor, and researcher. He's helped create one of the leading brands in the human capital industry working with several key sectors including energy, pharmaceutical, professional services, technology, financial services, and the public sector. He's the author of four successful books, Leadership Solutions, The Leadership Gap, The Leadership Contract, and The Leadership Contract Field Guide. His work has been featured in many of the world's leading business publications, including the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, and The World Economic Forum.
Vince, I'm so excited to have you on my show.
Thanks so much, Melanie. Thanks for having me.
I want to dive right in and I want to ask you to tell us more about the work that you do. What are you up to?
I run a leadership development company. I've been a leadership advisor for most of my career and I also write, speak extensively, and consult with corporations around the world. Most of the time, I'm brought in either a senior executive, whether it's a CEO or head of HR has a fundamental transformational challenge in their business, a new strategy, a turnaround, post-M&A, and they need to scale a different kind of leadership across the organization. They need leaders to step up in new and different ways than they have been. That's the work that I do. I'm now looking to take my own company to the next level, building digital solutions, and thinking about consulting a little differently. I’m doing all of that in this world that's been upended for all of us because these moments cause you to rethink a number of things that you've held near and dear to your heart for a long time. I always get excited by those opportunities to rethink traditional practices and ways of doing business.
It's such a good time for that. There's almost a blank slate of a kind that you can choose where you want to expand into as time is freed up.
I do believe for those of us that have the good fortune to be able to devote some of that time. In many ways, what this global pandemic and crisis have caused us to do is accelerate some trends that had already been happening in our world, our society, and in business. They've been moved much more quickly. The remote work and work from home is the best example of that. There are lots of other examples of where you're being put in a position where you can look at things with a different set of eyes which is always cool to do.
You have a new book. Tell us a little bit about that.
The new book is called Accountable Leaders and it shows how leaders can create a culture where they inspire everyone to step up, demonstrate real ownership, and drive sustainable business results. I didn't realize it back in 2013, I launched a book called The Leadership Contract. It was a New York Times bestseller. The book's done exceptionally well. That book positioned this idea about a lot of leaders. A lot of people in leadership roles don't fully appreciate what the role is about. The reason is most of them get into the roles because they were good at something technical. They were the best engineer, salesperson, analyst, and accountant. We have had a history of taking those great individual, contributors, performers, and moving them into leadership roles and not supporting them. A lot of them have to struggle to figure out what it means to lead.
That book talks about that. If you're in a leadership role, you may not have realized but you signed up for something important. It talks about four terms. As we were going out around the world bringing those ideas to organizations, what we learned from our clients, as they said, “We need our leaders to be accountable at a personal level,” which is what The Leadership Contract is about but then I started to hear. They need to hold others accountable. They need to build an accountable team and they need to work with other leaders across the organization to inspire others to step up and demonstrate ownership.
That became the basis of the new book, Accountable Leaders. That brings more of an organizational lens to how leaders need to step up. What it also does is it shows leaders like CEOs, heads of HR, and even directors on boards on what they have to do to build a culture of leadership accountability across an organization. I didn't realize when I started in 2013, that I would have what I'm calling my own nonfiction trilogy between The Leadership Contract, The Leadership Contract Field Guide, and the new book, Accountable Leaders which it will be out in all major booksellers whether online or in retail stores.
I'm curious about this idea of the leader being accountable. Leaders often talk about having the people that report to them be accountable. What's the difference?
That's the gap. Over the years, I’ve traveled to 25 countries. I've been in 80 cities talking to leaders globally around leadership. It's fascinating when you start talking about accountability because it's a topic that everybody wants, yet we have grown when we have to apply it to ourselves. It's like, “I want everyone else to be accountable, but not so much myself.” That’s the fundamental problem because I have not met a CEO that I’ve worked with who looks into his or her organization and sees a ton of leadership accountability gaps. In my global research confirms it but oftentimes, we have this sense that accountability is something you do to people. It's something you have to inspire people. The way you have to inspire it is by you being an accountable leader yourself. You need to set the tone of accountability. I didn't realize it at that time but when I was sixteen, I got my very first part-time job. It was in a men's clothing store near a mall in my house where I lived in and the manager who hired me, Gary took a bet on me.
He said, “You're way too young to be doing selling clothes to professional men.” It was a men's clothing store. I found that with him, he would inspire me because he would never ask us to do anything he wouldn't do himself. He had this energy about him. He got promoted to a flagship store of the company and then in came Steve, his successor who had a completely different perspective. His famous saying was, “Don't do as I do, do as I say.” I remember feeling so frustrated by that because I had seen Gary who set the tone, set the example, and inspired us to be accountable, to drive our performance to want to help him succeed. Steve, who had a very different view, he had two standards. One for everyone else and one for himself. That is the fundamental crux of the challenge we've got with accountability. It's got to start with you, but then you got to understand, you got to drive it with your team, direct reports, and peers but you have no chance of getting there if you don't start with yourself first.
That's so insightful to look at the inspiration as the way to work with accountability and organizations. I want to shift for a second and ask how you are experimenting yourself in your business and your life during this time.
From a business standpoint, it's in a number of ways in terms of within our own company. We've been working on a digital platform that we're launching. Most of my work is either consulting, advising our clients. It's in developing, and running programs based on the ideas in my books and also doing speaking in large events and whatnot, that's all being upended. For the time being, we’ll most likely move primarily virtually. The work on the digital side was interesting because that's a technology solution. When you start with the partners we're working with, a lot of the companies I’ve interviewed and tried to learn from, you need a very experimental mindset. When I go in asking for, “What are the best practices?” They'll say, “There aren't any. It's simple. You try something. If it works, you keep doing it. If it doesn’t, don’t spend too much time worrying about it. Learn from it and move on.”
That's the experimental nature that I’ve been taking to my business, which is adopting more of that experimental mindset around the digital solutions that we're bringing to the marketplace to complement the other solutions we have in place. What I'm finding about that personally is, it's quite liberating. As long as you treat everything as an experiment that you go in with, let's give it a try, let's see what happens, let's learn what worked, what didn't work, what do we need to refine, do we keep doing it? Yes, let’s go. Do we need to change course? Let's do that. It's a fascinating way to move ahead. I've had to learn to do less about looking for the answer somewhere and realizing I’ve got to find the answer. I've got to find my formula for success.
On a personal level, what this opportunity has afforded us is to spend more time with family. The interesting thing is with my wife and I’ve got three grown children, everyone is busy doing their own thing so our house has become a workplace. We see each other occasionally during the day as people pop into the kitchen to grab a bite or something but then we congregate at dinner time and we're having far more leisurely dinners. We're having some good conversations. Allowing that time for those conversations to happen has been cool.
I love the idea of the experimental mindset. Everyone in the world accidentally became experimenters. What I loved about what you said is that, “What did you learn?” That is the most important question that we ask, “What did we learn, and then what?” It's fine to experiment but if you don't collect the data then you're throwing things at walls.
In the challenges that we've had, particularly because of COVID-19 is dealing with something at the scale that we hadn't dealt with for 100 years. Learning as we're going and then being open to learn of what was happening as different countries were being hit with this overtime. If you think about what all the healthcare professionals and healthcare workers at the frontline have done, what researchers have done, how companies are working together globally in ways. The whole notion of what a crisis allows you to do is quite fascinating, to watch that happen and how people can rally together. If anyone is sitting here pretending they have all the answers, that's not the case. We've not been here before. We need to figure out how to work together, experiment, try things, and support one another through that so we can get to a better place at some point with you and your future.
It's like all the leaders in the world are on stage visibly. We can research them, see what worked and what didn't work that they tried as they conduct experiments very publicly in real-time.
It's interesting you say that. I mentioned my global travel. This is all pre-COVID, one of the weird things that happened to me as I was doing all of that travel is I would be touching down in a country as a major leadership story was breaking out in real-time in their country. One Sunday morning in March a number of years back, I landed in Sao Paulo, Brazil only to realize that that happened to be the day where five million Brazilians took to the streets to protest the corruption in their government. I happened to be there for a week to talk to people about leadership. How lucky was I? It was the only topic anybody wanted to talk about.
Nobody wants to talk about soccer or anything. It was just leadership because people were fed up with the bad leadership and that happened everywhere I went. The past years for someone who's a leadership advisor has researched the topic, has written about it, it's been so fascinating and now leaders are under a big spotlight. We look to them and need to look to them at a time of crisis. We see examples of some exceptional leadership play out either in the political sphere or business sphere and then some dreadful examples at the same time. That's the part that leaders need to be aware of. We're always looked at, but in crisis, it's even more critical. There's no place to hide.
I have a question for you, Vince. When you think about taking some of your products virtual or digital, what are the values that you rest on as you start to grapple with all that experimenting?
I would say it's a couple of things. It’s how do you replicate the impact and the magic that we know? My teams and I are able to deliver in a traditional classroom facilitated type of session. How are you able to not lose that? I've written a lot about it and consult a lot about this idea of a community of leaders that the new model of leadership isn't about one person at the top of the hierarchy who has all the answers. That was the model of leadership that existed when I started my career many years ago. Now, it's more about bringing leaders together, sharing their perspectives, and their ideas in more of a sense of community.
The opportunity is, how do you leverage the technology and create communities of learning around leadership, so people feel supported with one another? A great example is, we launched this Accountable Leaders app the first week of May 2020. During this period of time, we've been holding a weekly community call for those who have signed up for the community. They happen every Friday morning. It was great because one leader who joined looked to the community for support. He said, “I’m new in my role and if I'm going to be honest, I think the company made a mistake. I don't know why they gave me the role.” He was doubting himself. We've all been in that position and can relate to him, but he felt that within his own organization, he didn't think he could be open but in this community, he felt that he could.
He got tremendous support and perspectives by people who were on that call who were also able to relate to what he was saying and give him some guidance. To say that, that's perfectly normal. I said, “I'd rather hear a leader express that than express complete overconfidence.” At least you're being honest with yourself and you have humility about your role. That community and connection piece is what's going to be critical. It's what is helping us at this time. Platforms like Zoom, MS Teams, and Skype, it's not the same as being in a room like if you and I were in a room sharing a coffee but we're still able to do this. That is one way of maintaining that connection and community.
I'm sure you have had this experience in your life. One of the biggest surprises for me as a coach, I've been a coach for years, and starting to talk to leaders is how ubiquitous that imposter syndrome is. Everybody has it, if they're stretching into the corners of what's possible for themselves. I work with a lot of new leaders, people who are technically skilled, they get promoted, and then they're looking for help and it is so much a part of the landscape of self-doubt.
It's understandable because the role has become more demanding. The expectations are greater. The leadership roles, in many ways, demand more than any one person. I was 27 when I started my first company as an entrepreneur and people would ask, “How's the business going?” I would always say, “The business would be great if I wasn't running it.” Every single day, you confront your limitations and your business demands certain things from you.
I have many strengths but I also have areas that are not as strong. That's true of someone in a leadership role as well and then we get hit with a global pandemic and your context that defines leadership in many ways. A lot of leaders have been thrust into the position of, “I hope I can leave myself, my teams, and my company through this time.” That's a healthy place to be because there's a sense of humility there. The arrogance and this attitude of, “I've got this,” that's riskier.
I haven't heard anybody says that in my practice for a while. There's nobody that thinks they've got it.
I would agree. That's a good thing.
I'd love to hear about how you build strong leadership accountability and that leads to a competitive advantage. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Part of it is based on a global research which I've done that has looked at leadership accountability by identifying and asking companies, “Is leadership accountability critical? How satisfied are you with the extent that leaders are stepping up and being accountable?” With a lot of this research that firms do, there's always a question around like, “Can you please self-identify based on your company's performance over the years, is your company an industry leader an average performer or a laggard, a poor performer? Where do you slot it?”
Granted that it's all self-identified but assuming that people are giving you the right answer. When we cut the data based on those three groups, what you consistently find is that there's a critical link between leadership accountability and company performance. The companies who are industry leaders tend to have consistently higher ratings of satisfaction with the degree of accountability demonstrated by leaders. They feel that most of their leaders are deemed to be accountable. They say they have stronger leadership cultures, and they do a much better job at addressing the leaders who are struggling in their roles who may be unaccountable or mediocre compared to the others. The data is absolutely clear that accountability and company performance are completely intertwined and connected with one another. That's the first step. There's a research that does that. In an accountable leader, I map out an approach for organizations on how they need to get stronger.
The first thing is they have to make it a priority. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had where they agree, “Yes, this is a problem and they do nothing about it.” You've got to make it a priority. The other thing I do is you've got to set clear expectations of your leaders. I say call it a leadership contract for the company that says, “Here's where we're setting the bar and the standard for our leaders. This is what it means to be a leader in our company.” My research reveals less than half of companies even do that. It's very hard for a leader even if I have the intention to be accountable, it's hard for me to step up if the organization hasn't made it clearer, what that mean?
What does good look like? What does stepping up look like? What am I being held accountable to? What are the standards for leaders? That's the other thing. The third thing is you do have to do some of the hard work. A lot of companies shy away from addressing the leaders were mediocre. They don't know how to handle them at all. Sometimes it's not the fault of the leaders. As you said, Melanie, we thrust people into leadership roles because they're great technical performers. We don't give them development or support they need to learn the craft of leadership. They acquire all these bad habits. We miss the most obvious thing. We promote them into the roles without ever asking them, “Is this something that you want to do? Are you jazzed about being a leader?”
What you find is, there's a certain percentage of people in leadership roles who don't even think of themselves as leaders, they think of themselves as whatever their technical expertise was. They're imposter, they're pretending. When you confront them, they go, “I said yes because you asked me, but can I go back to being an engineer? Can I go back to being the accountant? Can I go back to being the analyst? That's what my passion and love is. This managing teams and people, that’s not for me.” We have to be more deliberate at tackling that. The fourth thing companies need to do is build a leadership culture by bringing leaders together face-to-face or virtually so that they can build relationships, collaborate, and drive innovation more effectively. That's how you translate it. All of it is based on the research that shows us a connection between accountability and company performance.
I have a question about addressing mediocre leaders because, in my work, I often know someone in an organization needs to go about six months before they go because the leaders start talking about them. How do you know when it's time to exit someone?
First off, addressing mediocre leaders doesn't mean you exit them all. That's not the point. It's you begin by having a conversation around, “Your performance isn't where it needs to be as a leader.” This is where the organization has to take accountability. If you haven't sent clear expectations of leaders and they're struggling to step up, is it their issue or is it your issue as an organization that you haven't made it clear to them? You've got to diagnose all the issues that could be contributing to that mediocrity. Let's assume you've got those expectations in place then it's around that decision. The first term of my leadership contract is, “Did you take this job because of the title, the perks, and the pay? Is leadership something that you want to be good?” Ask them, “Where would you be happier? Being in a technical role? Being that technical expert that we need you to be or leading teams?”
Even when we go in and work with our clients and I do a keynote or we run a leadership contract session, you'll find some leaders put up their hand going, “I got to come clean here. This isn't my thing. Can I go back to a technical role because that's where I'm going to feel I'm going to add more value?” It's not about exiting people. It's about having that conversation first. Sometimes I have found leaders who were struggling. Once you make the expectations clear, they go, “I get it now. I want to do that.” They go after it. Of course, there's going to be that small subset where you do need to take action. The question around how long is you've got to define a period of time where you have the conversation and say, “Is this something you want to do?” “Yes.” “If the answer is yes, you've got three months or six months to get your performance to the next level. If at that point in time you can’t, then we're having a different conversation.”
That's what I've seen seems to work in action. To be clear, it's not about seeing someone's struggling in their role and you exit them. That's not the strategy at all, though a lot of companies tend to like to leave people who are mediocre in the roles and that's not good for them. It's not good for the organization. What I've heard a lot of which is so quite surprising is they take a mediocre leader and they move them into the HR function. They moved them out of the business. They're not having any collateral damage on the business and put them in HR because they don't want to let that person go whether they're loyal to them, the person's been a long-term employee, or whatever is the case. You've got someone who's struggling, you've put them in one of the most important functions in the company, which is HR, and now you've got other problems that you're going to deal with.
You've got a lot going on in your business. You've got a book. You're going digital. What do you do for self-care for yourself as a leader?
I work out every morning and that's a combination of cardio, bodyweight training, and stretching. I'm an active walker. When the weather is better, I play a little bit of tennis and whatnot. I keep myself fairly active. I also try to manage, in a deliberate way, my reaction to things and try to bring optimism to say in this case to my family, colleagues, and coworkers when I can, if I've ever found myself in situations where they haven't been great. I learned early in my career that life is too short to work for bad boss or a mediocre manager.
I would give it a period of time and then I would leave. I try to find the environments. It's even when I work with clients, I try to work and find clients where there's an alignment of values and we share a common vision of the work we're trying to do together. When you do it, it's magic but when the fit isn't there, if the values don't work then you run into a ton of stress and frustration. It doesn't matter how much they pay you. It's not worth it for them nor for you. I try to minimize the stress that I'm encountering either professionally or personally but the core practice is taking care of myself physically through working out on a deliberate and regular basis.
I'd love for you to tell everyone who's listening, where they can find you?
The easiest place is on LinkedIn, it's Vince Molinaro. That's the platform I primarily use. My website is DrVinceMolinaro.com. Those are the two places where people can track me.
It's been such a pleasure to have you here. I've enjoyed our conversation. It's such a privilege to think of questions and ask someone who's such an expert in the leadership world. Thanks for coming on my show.
Thanks, Melanie. I appreciate it. I love the questions and they got me thinking about some things I haven't thought about in a while. Thank you for that.
You're so welcome.
I enjoyed talking to Vince Molinaro about how he uses the value of replicating the impact of his work as he moves to digital. It's so interesting to think about impact as a way to pivot. How do you have things feel the same or have the same impact as you go forward? I also love the idea of accountability for leaders, as opposed to using accountability to control the people that you lead. Shifting that is a great look at doing it differently. I loved how he talks about a community of leaders and bringing leaders together. I think that openness of communication helps people be better at the work they do and they open feedback loops. The open flow of information makes people better leaders across the board. It was great to have Vince Molinaro on with me. Go experiment.
About Vince Molinaro
Vince Molinaro, Ph.D., (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) is Founder and CEO of Leadership Contract Inc. and is an author, speaker, leadership adviser and researcher. Molinaro has helped create one of the leading brands in the Human Capital industry, working in several key sectors including energy, pharmaceutical, professional services, technology, financial services, and the public sector. He is the author of four successful books, Leadership Solutions, The Leadership Gap, The Leadership Contract, and the Leadership Contract Field Guide. His work has been featured in many of the world’s leading business publications, including The Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, and The World Economic Forum.
A public speaker, consultant, workshop leader, author, and Master Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, from whom she received the Prism Award, Melanie is an expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, strategic hiring, and brand development.