On Leading and Accountability

Workplace Bullying

It’s fairly straightforward to work effectively alongside responsible colleagues.

Responsible colleagues generally want to work hard, want to make progress on the tasks that sit with them, and want to build productive relationships with you and their other workplace contacts.

They may, from time to time, get things wrong or make mistakes or fail to attend thoroughly enough to something important. But these are likely to be genuine errors and not actions borne out of irresponsible or purposefully unreliable behaviour.

Irresponsible Colleagues

It’s the latter two that are a completely different kettle of fish. And these types are much more confusing and troublesome to deal with.

Irresponsible colleagues:

  • Don’t always want to work hard
  • Often aren’t committed to quality outcomes
  • May well actively look for opportunities to coast or take credit for work they haven’t done

They are Sly

These colleagues often come to work simply to get by, doing just enough to get through the day without drawing undue attention to their slipshod ways.

They are Slippery

Some of these co-workers are also very skilled: at appearing to be busy when they are not, at manipulating the perceptions of those above them and at covering their backs. Others simply approach their work in a careless way and seem to get away with it.

Hopefully, you won’t have to cope with this kind of irresponsible conduct that often but, when you do, it can be wearisome to say the least.

They are Shifty

Irresponsible colleagues are, in my view, irresponsible because they get something they value out of taking this approach. It will vary from person to person, but one of the key things they gain is the opportunity to avoid being accountable, to avoid having to engage and work hard, to avoid having to make decisions and take the consequences of them.

Avoid, Distract, and Point Fingers

When put on the spot by co-workers frustrated at their approach irresponsible colleague can be expert at shifting the focus of the conversation away from their own shortcomings and onto other issues. They can:

  • Dodge the issues put to them.
  • Create fog around the key points they are asked to address.
  • Obfuscate and change the point of the conversation onto other issues instead.
  • Place responsibility for their lack of endeavour with other people, including you for daring to hold them accountable.
  • Disown their irresponsible behaviour and shift the blame elsewhere.

These behaviours can be exasperating to deal with and can result in you feeling annoyed, confused and powerless. And you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that an irresponsible colleague is beyond your influence.

And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way…

Influencing Irresponsible Team Members

You can use behaviour which holds an irresponsible colleague to account

To do so, you need to find the resolve to carry out your plan and you need a suitable example of their wayward behaviour around which to build your feedback. When you decide to tackle your irresponsible colleague – when you decide to call them on their counterproductive approach

Try the following:

  • Set up a one-to-one conversation with your colleague away from other people.
  • Take control of the conversation from the start and don’t waver from your commitment to remain in the driving seat throughout it.
  • Use a calm and steady tone, one that is neither emotional nor unassertive, and maintain a firm and measured delivery style throughout the conversation.
  • Play back to your colleague exactly what they said or did or did not do, describing their actions and words as a series of facts which cannot easily be disputed.
  • Make it clear to your colleague that, as a direct consequence of their irresponsibility, there will be unpleasant consequences for them to deal with, consequences which will be awkward and embarrassing for them to handle.
  • Describe what these consequences will be, making a direct link between their conduct and these particular outcomes. Make sure that you enforce these consequences so that, this time, the difficulty which ensues from their irresponsible behaviour sits with them rather than anyone else. (For instance, you may say that as a direct result of your colleague failing to get you the data they promised to get you by the agreed deadline you will both now be going to meet your joint Director so that your colleague can explain to them in front of you what prevented them from meeting the deadline.)

Accountability and Consequences

This last point above about consequences in crucial

Irresponsible colleagues are often enabled in their irresponsibility by conscientious and industrious colleagues covering for them, doing their work for them, and clearing up the messes they have left behind.

This is all done from the best of intentions but is ultimately a misguided strategy, one which perpetuates their colleagues’ irresponsibility.

As long as an irresponsible colleague has someone willing to cover for them, they will remain irresponsible, content in the knowledge that someone else is doing their share of the work and taking care of things on their behalf. But as soon as the consequences of their irresponsibility come home to roost, and it is the unreliable colleague who feels the rap, then they may well be minded to think again.

And that is where your true influence lies: by pointing out and enforcing fair but unwelcome consequences on your irresponsible colleague, such that they re-think their unreliable conduct and apply themselves more diligently in the future.

:: EDITOR’S BONUS :: Free Resource from L2L

You may like to download for free the following two manifestos which the author wrote last year. They deal with how to handle bullying and adversarial behavior in the workplace, two of the more extreme forms of irresponsible behaviour which you might encounter at work.

If you know of anyone else who might be interested in them please forward the links to them:


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Aryanne Oade
 is Director of Oade Associates

She is a Chartered Psychologist, executive coach, workshop facilitator, author & public speaker
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Books | 00 44 (0) 7747 868 368  

Image Sources: changethis.com

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One response to “On Leading and Accountability

  1. Pingback: Your Influence Inventory: 3 Practical Steps to Influence | Linked 2 Leadership·

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