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Doing Better Requires Accountability

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”

I’ve heard this Maya Angelou quote most of my life, but I remember the moment it clicked for me in a truly impactful and transformative way.

When I was a young manager, I used to think I had superpowers. I believed I could mold just about anyone into the employee I needed if I just gave them enough support and encouragement, showed them I cared, mentored them, sent them to the right conferences, and took an interest in their personal life.

I was very naïve. I didn’t really understand supervision leadership, and I was overconfident in my skillset, or lack thereof. The truth is I would hire people I liked on a personal level regardless of whether they were qualified for the job. Even if, in my heart, I knew they did not have the skillset the job needed, I believed I and my superpowers could train them up.

This, unfortunately, came with a lot of heavy lifting on my end, along with disappointment. I allowed these hires to drop the ball and wouldn’t even always, or ever, hold them accountable. And worse, I ignored the signs that other that clearly indicated other team members were weary from my choices.

Looking back, I wish I knew then what I know now. I was looking at everything from a very personal perspective when I should have been focused on what the organization needed.

One particular memory that stands out was the day I had to let an employee go. To this day, I can see the shocked look on his face as I told him, “Today will be your last day.” That look still haunts me and most likely always will. And I still wonder if he landed on his feet.

The truth is, the entire staff was impacted by this person’s lack of ability to do the job and it was causing them immense stress and even resentment toward me for hiring him and letting the entire situation go on for too long.

I wish I could say that that day was the day the lightbulb went off and I learned my lesson. But I’ll be honest, it was a lesson I had to learn a few times. Hiring friends and not holding them accountable all the time, hiring people who were not ready for the level of work that was needed. I have made a number of critical missteps and full-blown mistakes. And that’s okay as long as I finally LEARNED from them.

Once I knew better, I could do better.

It’s easy for us to throw stones at other leaders for the decisions they make, meanwhile, our glasshouses are opaque with the grime of our own transgressions.

Yes, I can certainly train, mentor and support the people I hire, but my first responsibility is to hire people that are actually qualified for the position and bring the right skillset to the table and add value to the organization.

This week’s tip is really about reflecting on what you have learned on your leadership journey. Where have you grown from the many mistakes you made? What did those lessons teach you and what do you do differently (AKA better) now than you did before?

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