Just how do I hold someone accountable?
Accountability begins with #1 (and the Number I)
by Dave Westol, CEO of Limberlost Consulting, Inc.
Perhaps the biggest challenge chapter leaders face is accountability and specifically holding others accountable. As I visit campuses and conduct consulting sessions with chapter leaders I am rarely surprised by the range of issues that they want to discuss…but it would be a surprise if accountability or its close friends “lack of motivation,” “fiscal irresponsibility,” and “behavior unbecoming” were not on the list of topics many of the leaders provide to me when they enter the room.
Let’s break accountability down into 11 parts.
1) Is this a one-time event or a macro-issue?
I met with the president of a men’s fraternity chapter during a campus visit last spring. He noted that a brother was prone to engage in destructive behavior directed toward the chapter house when he drank. I asked how many times this had occurred. The president replied, “Just about every week”…and this had been going on since September of 2011. I asked the president if there was a larger issue here than behavior. The president paused and then said, “Yeah, maybe…”
I told him, “No ‘maybe’ about it. This brother has a larger issue with drinking alcohol to excess” The president reluctantly agreed. I told him, “It is never easy to confront someone about behavior but when we take a knee during our respective Rituals we commit to doing the right things, no matter how difficult that may be”
When you evaluate an accountability situation, ask yourself—micro or macro?
2) Define the issue.
In a sentence or a few words. “You are not paying your bills…you have missed a number of meetings…you aren’t doing your job as an officer” Be specific here.
3) Do it now. Don’t delay.
Few of us enjoy these conversations. I don’t. But a situation, problem or issue will usually not improve over time without intervention—in fact, quite the opposite.
4) Pick a day, time and venue.
Part 3 and Part 4 are interchangeable. Find at least an hour of time…make it time when you won’t be preoccupied or distracted by other things…find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. I usually advise against using a room in the chapter house. There are plenty of places on campus where you can have privacy. At some point you must reach out to the member and ask him for a good day/date/time.
5) Invite the member to the meeting.
Give him a sense of the purpose of the meeting but do not allow the invitation to become the meeting. “We need to talk…I will buy lunch…I’m thinking an hour…this is about __________…our discussion will be confidential” Keep in mind that some guys will try to start the conversation then rather than wait. Be calm, be patient…but be firm.
6) Be early for the meeting. Be prepared. Be open and candid.
Rather than say, “You are an embarrassment to The Order” or “Dude, you have to pay your bills or you’ll be suspended” frame the issue(s) as that or those make you feel. “When you drink and act like that you make me feel embarrassed that I am #1” When you frame the issue in terms of how it makes you feel, the person cannot argue about that.
7) Be prepared for a range of defenses.
Most people will react defensively if you criticize their behavior. They will attempt to rationalize or justify what occurred or to shift blame to others. In fact, they will often attempt to redirect the conversation to what happened and why instead of what will occur in the future.
Be prepared for the sympathy defense—that things are not going well for the member…that issues, troubles and problems have driven him to the point of doing negative things.
Be prepared for the “No big deal” defense or the pointed finger defense—“Hey, don’t tell me YOU didn’t do these things last year!”
Be prepared for the, “Why are you singling me out? __________ does the same stuff!”
8) Agree upon the issue(s).
This is not easy. If a brother has a drug problem, for example, it will be difficult for him to admit or acknowledge that. However, if you fail to define the issue then the expected change will fail. See (2) as a reminder.
9) Find a resolution or a change in behavior or “better”.
Your time invested in the meeting will be wasted unless a specific outcome is found. And remember, “specific”. Phrases such as, “I’ll try to do better…I won’t drink so much…I’ll show up from now on” are not specific. And those are exactly what a member who is creating issues will try to use because they work or because they have worked for him since he was five or six years old.
A question for you: What does “better” look like? Not “perfect” or “Zero tolerance”. Just better. Have that thought in hand before the meeting. For the meeting I referenced at the beginning of the article, the president and I agreed that “Better” meant the member agreeing in writing that he would not damage the chapter house or engage in negative behavior…and if he did, there would be consequences including suspension and counseling.
Do your best to work with the member. Finding common ground is never easy especially when it is apparent that the member does not want to change his behavior. Be the bigger man but don’t walk away without a specific agreement for “better”.
10) Have consequences in hand.
Some members will thank you for working with them. Some will thank you years later for working with them. And some will say, “You’re right” and then two weeks later repeat the negative behavior. Have specific consequences and be prepared to implement those immediately.
11) You have many resources.
There are many people you can call upon for assistance including your excellent Headquarters staff, volunteers, advisors, your Fraternity/Sorority Advisor, the good folks in the campus counseling center. Use your resources. Being a #1 does not mean standing alone.
When I have spoken at your Number Is Leadership Institute on accountability I often ask the Number Is why they wanted to serve as presidents. The answers, as you may guess, are consistently positive. No one has EVER told me, “Dave, I wanted to be Number I so I could hammer certain brothers for their behavior.”
Yet, accountability is a part of your job. My advice? Define the issue, act quickly, agree upon “better” and put the ball squarely in the court of the member.
Dave Westol is Owner & CEO of Limberlost Consulting, Inc. in Carmel, Indiana. He has spoken at a number of Kappa Alpha Order leadership events on hazing, risk management and accountability and has worked with seven Kappa Alpha chapters. He has served as a football official for 27 seasons and is the administrator for FIPG. His website is: Limberlostconsulting.com and he can be reached at: David.Westol@gmail.com