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Some managers start looking for fires to start with their team, so that they can swoop in to the rescue. They have no time to set up a meaningful accountability program, they’ll say, because they have too many (self-started) fires to fight. Most of the leaders I work with are dubious at first that they could ever play the role of the Primary Arsonist. Yet it’s easier to fall into this pattern without realizing it than you might imagine.

Consider Steven, whose direct report, Kendra, is struggling to complete direct mail campaigns on deadline.

Kendra: I’m really frustrated with our printer. I have to upload each file separately instead of batching them into one upload.

Steven: Oh, I can take care of that for you. Can you send me the files?

Kendra: Sure… they should be in your Inbox.

Steven: Perfect. And… they’re uploaded.

Kendra: How did you do that?

Steven: Our printer set up my portal for batch uploading. I’m surprised they didn’t do that for you.

Kendra: It’s the first I heard about a batch upload option. Who do I speak with to get that set up?

Steven: Oh, I’ll take care of it for you.

(Three weeks later:)

Kendra: Steve, I need to upload files for another campaign, but my portal doesn’t have the batch upload function. When will that happen?

Steven: Don’t worry. I’ll handle the upload. Send me the files.

(Repeat until Kendra quits.)

Steven gets his needs met by Kendra needing his portal to efficiently upload files. Kendra’s ability to meet her accountabilities each week is hindered by needing Steve’s portal. A more productive dialogue would include Steve agreeing to have Kendra’s portal set up for batch uploading. Yet because he gets his needs met by Kendra being dependent on his portal, that conversation is unlikely to happen — or if it does happen, it’s likely to end in frustration for Kendra. This is managerial arson.

The ultimate goal of any leader should be to make the team self-sufficient. A self-sufficient team essentially runs itself with minimal input from its manager. If this is a terrifying idea for you, ask yourself how much more productive and efficient you and your team would be if you could permanently retire your Fire Chief hat.

Excerpted from Accountability the Sandler Way. Copyright © 2014, Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.

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