Contented Cows: Leaders’ Accountability Keeps Employees Engaged


One newsletter I have followed for many years is Contented Cow Partners: Connecting people and profit, by Bill Catlette and Richard Haddon.  The name of their blog comes from the saying “Contented cows give more milk” . . . which they use as a metaphor meaning “engaged employees are more productive.” Bill and Richard write about leadership and employee engagement, and they provide thoughtful commentary on today’s workplaces.

Recently they have posted two articles with important points about leadership accountability.

Accountability for Terminations:  On April 25, 2012, Bill Catlette wrote about employee terminations – the tough side of being a leader. After my recent piece on “favorite firings,” I found Bill’s comments thought-provoking.

He described the circumstances when employee terminations are necessary: Leaders get paid to fire people whose performance or behavior either persistently or grossly fails to meet expectations.

But “in too many cases, managers duck the issue because it’s hard, because it can damage your popularity for a while, [or] you don’t want the hassle of . . . lengthy termination procedures. . . . “  Also, he said, the problem might get deferred to a new manager in the next reorganization.

My “favorite firing” posts are designed to point out when managers need to take accountability for terminating certain employees (and when they shouldn’t).  But we should always remember that the goal is to preserve the engagement of the workforce as a whole, not to belittle or take revenge on a particular employee.

Accountability for Mistakes:  Then on May 2, 2012, Richard Haddon posted about how good leaders take accountability for their mistakes.   We’ve all made mistakes.  But leaders own up, they don’t make others pay for their mistakes.

We’ve all heard the story of how Eisenhower wrote a memo in advance of D-Day in which he said that he was responsible if the invasion was a disaster.  But when the invasion was a success, he gave the credit to the fighting troops, as he should have.  Leaders give credit; they don’t take it.

When leaders take accountability for their mistakes, Richard’s post says to

1. Apologize quickly and without excuses or weasel words.
2. Clean up the mess you made.
3. Ask for your people’s help to fix the problem.
4. Thank them when they come through for you.

We’ve all been there at some point.

When have you had to own up to a mistake? Did you follow Richard’s four steps?

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1 Comment

Filed under Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Workplace

One response to “Contented Cows: Leaders’ Accountability Keeps Employees Engaged

  1. Pingback: Apologize When You Make a Mistake | Sara Rickover, Behind the Corporate Veil

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