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Episode 24: Realizing Conscious Accountability Within Your Organization

David Tate, Professor at Yale University School of Management and CEO of Conscious Growth Partners – a leadership coaching and executive development consultancy – joins this episode of Change@Work. Listen as he and host Chris Thornton discuss his upcoming book, Conscious Accountability, how leaders can deepen relationships with their teams, and the 7 practices to help build accountability within work cultures.

Transcript

0:00 – 0:0:33
Chris Thornton

Change@Work is a podcast about the ever-evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris Thornton, Senior Principal here at Daggerwing Group. Together with partners, clients, and leading experts from a variety of industries, we’ll share what’s happening in the world of work, how leaders can prepare for the future, and how to engage employees along the way.

0:33 – 0:50
Chris Thornton

Joining me today is David Tate, a professor at Yale University School of Management where he specializes in topics related to human dynamics and leadership. David is also the CEO of Conscious Growth Partners and the co-author of Conscious Accountability which is coming out in the fall.

0:50 – 0:51
Chris Thornton

David, welcome!

0:51 – 0:53
David Tate

Chris, thank you, it’s great to be here.

0:53 – 1:16
Chris Thornton

It’s great to talk with you, we always get to know people before we dig into the good stuff (though I kind of like this first part a lot) so I’m going to ask you some questions about you. You specialize in leadership. Who’s your favorite, most inspiring leader? And it could be, you know, a public figure that many people know, or it could just be somebody that you know in your daily life.

1:16 – 2:00
David Tate

Yeah, that’s a great question. You know there’s so many leaders that inspire me, and that have inspired me nowadays. I think about my dad who is just a remarkable person. We’re going to talk about conscious accountability later, but I think he was somebody who could really get things done but also did that in a way which was tremendously aware of other people and creating great connections along the way. And that’s really what we’ll talk about when we get into conscious accountability. So, I have some personal examples and then there’s also a lot of other leaders in the world who I think that exemplify some of these things as well.

2:00 – 2:07
Chris Thornton

So, should we talk about your dad now and hold onto conscious accountability for later, or do you want to talk about your dad later?

2:07 – 2:09
David Tate

No, either way is fine.

2:09 – 2:10
Chris Thornton

Let’s talk about your dad, where did you grow up?

2:11 – 3:26
David Tate

So, I grew up in upstate New York, for the most part. We moved around quite a bit. Growing up we lived in the Bay Area in California for three years. We lived in Gainesville, Florida. My parents were like educational vagabonds. So, they would move – like my mom got a doctorate at the University of Florida, so we were down there for some time and then my dad was pursuing some graduate work in the Bay Area, so we were out there for a few years. And so, one of the things I learned from them was just the idea that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself and to let your passions guide you towards what the next chapter is going to be in your life, and really having an open mind of what that could be. So, my dad was a true renaissance man. He wore many hats – he was an attorney, and he was trained as a psychotherapist and he did real estate development and he was also a standup comic. So, he had all of these different – and a non-profit leader actually – he founded a non-profit too. So unfortunately, he’s no longer with us but he still kind of inspires me and his example inspires me everyday.

3:27 – 3:39
Chris Thornton

I love that. Thank you for sharing. Let’s get on to adventure. It sounds like your family went on a lot of adventures. What’s the most adventurous thing you have ever done?

3:39 – 5:46
David Tate

Yeah, great question. So, in…I guess it was around 2000. I’d finished my doctorate, I was on a research track at Yale and I was doing some great work but I was not feeling super excited to jump out of bed int the morning and get to it. Or I was noticing that there was something that was missing. So, what I decided to do was to take kind of a sabbatical, if you will, except I didn’t get a sabbatical in my track so it was basically unpaid leave. I’d negotiated for six months off, and I travelled for most of that time – I spent 7 weeks in Europe and 7 weeks in Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii by myself just traveling around and kind of doing a reset on my life. And it was really, probably one of the best things I ever did because it became clear to me, while I was away – I remember in fact I was on a park bench in Barcelona – and it just became clear that research was not going to be the thing that lit me up. It was really about me being more the vehicle of change as a result of showing up and being with other people. And so that created a really fundamental shift in kind of what happened next. So, that led to kind of an exploration that led me to pursue executive coaching and organizational consulting and opening up a clinical practice – so seeing people for psychotherapy and put the balls in motion for just a different track. But that was really like, listening to that voice that was like, you know ‘something’s not quite right.’ And allowing myself the time to step back from my life was definitely an adventure and felt scary at the time, but was again one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.

5:46 – 6:31
Chris Thornton

Yeah, an adventure that led to a whole bunch of new adventures especially for you. I think one thing, listening to that voice, or being conscious of ‘it’s not quite right’, or ‘it’s not exactly what I want it to be.’ Something that seems really hard for people right now. Because we’re so busy, and I don’t know about you, but so many people that I talk to are like ‘I’m tired because trying to just keep going with everything that’s happening within the world’ and creating space to hear that voice, we can’t all go on a sabbatical like you did. How do you create space, and I’m putting you on the spot, but any advice for leaders to be able to hear that voice?

6:35 – 8:05
David Tate

Absolutely Chris, I think that this is a great question and the way I try to do that in my life now is just building in times in my day to pause and reflect, and people can do this in all sorts of different ways. And I do it in different ways too, like I like to take my dog – I love Labrador retrievers and we’ve had them basically my whole life, and I have one now – so I take him on a long walk and I’ll just allow myself just to really be present in the moment, and just kind of check in with myself. You know? How is my day going? How am I feeling? What am I thinking? How do I want to be feeling? So that’s one way. And then another way, which again I try to make a regular practice in my life, is journaling. I’ve journaled since I was 19 and kept a journal kind of consistently through my life. And I’ve found, and by the way there’s research that shows really some great health and mental health benefits from journaling, and I find that space and time just to kind of slow down and dump out whatever’s in my head onto paper, and we can of course think much faster than we can write. So, it actually allows us to slow down and really take stock and think about what’s going on. And I think that’s my way of kind of really just listening to myself.

8:06 – 8:34
Chris Thornton

So helpful, so practical and I can really picture myself, not just thinking what I’m thinking, but asking myself what am I thinking about? How am I feeling and processing that way, as opposed to just continue to go through the flow, but pausing to say wait a minute, what am I thinking about, how am I feeling, in addition of course to journaling I think is so helpful to create space for that voice to come through.

8:34 – 9:00
David Tate

Yeah, you know I find, and so many of the executives that I talk to were so in like ‘doing’ mode. Like we’ll fulfill our to do list, checking things off, sprinting through our days, and so much of the learning that’s possible – things that we can learn – happens through when we step back and reflect. And so, there’s so much upside potential just by figuring out how to build in that space.

9:01 – 9:21
Chris Thornton

Well thank you for that. I put you on the spot and I’m so glad I did because that was great, loving this. Alright let’s get into questions about conscious accountability. So, you’ve been exploring the idea of realizing organizational team goals through conscious accountability. You’re co-authoring a book that’s coming out in the fall. Can you tell us a bit about the book and what your motivations were for writing it?

9:21 – 9:56
David Tate

Absolutely. So conscious accountability, what we did in this book is that we describe a revised perspective on accountability. So, I co-authored this book with two of my colleagues – Marianne Pantalon and Daryn David and we make a distinction between conscious accountability and what we call accountability 1.0. And then we propose a framework for how do you actually create conscious accountability. What are the things that people and leaders, what do they need to do in order to create a better way of accountability.

9:56 – 10:17
Chris Thornton

So, when I think about, I kind of sat back when you were talking about accountability 1.0 and I don’t know exactly what you mean by it, but it actually felt, it kind of pierced my soul a little bit, so tell me about accountability 1.0 and then how what you’re suggesting is different from that.

10:17 – 12:57
David Tate

Sure. So, sometimes I call accountability 1.0 my grandfather’s accountability. It’s kind of like did you get the thing done or not. Did it happen or not. So, there’s like a results focus. Focus on the results only. Now, conscious accountability, we expand that to include both include results – results are of course important – but also relationships are important. So, what were the relationships that happen. So, in other words we want to get great results and at the same time, build and strengthen our relationships in the process of doing whatever it is we’re doing. So, there’s a slightly, there’s like a double bottom line, if you will, for conscious accountability. Another facet of conscious accountability, in accountability 1.0 it’s really kind of an individual sport. It’s like up to the individual to be accountable or not. Conscious accountability is a team sport. So, it’s always a shared endeavor. We create accountability together and so it’s a mindset shift from basically ‘I’ and ‘me’ to ‘we’ and ‘us’ and how accountability happens. And the third way conscious accountability is different, accountability 1.0 sometimes tends to be a bit reactive and a little bit of portioning blame. So, something goes wrong, and people ask who is accountable for that. Who did this. The call for accountability when something happens. And so, there’s a place for that, but conscious accountability is more proactive – so it often asks the question who is responsible for making things better and how can we think about, how do we set up accountability say at the beginning of the outset so that we know where we’re going and who’s doing what and getting clear about that on the outset and the goal of conscious accountability is not blame but learning. It’s always about how do we create learning from whatever happens. If we succeeded, there’s learning there. If we fail, there’s also learning there. In fact, some of our best learning comes through failure and times when we didn’t hit the mark. So, conscious accountability, even if we’re looking at what went wrong, we’re looking at it with a lens of how can we harvest all of the learning that we can so we can keep getting better and better together over time.

12:59 – 14:40
Chris Thornton

Why I’m so excited about what you’re sharing is recently we’ve been working with a client in reshaping, they already had leadership characteristics that are important to them, but we’re reframing and sharpening the language, so people really understood the mindset shift that was required as opposed to check the box. Did you do this or not – also leadership characteristics, there are varying levels of doing it. We know what not doing it looks like but there’s no limit to how good you could be. I think one of the things, when it comes to this binary did you do it did you not do it, I’m so intrigued by it and excited about conscious accountability is that you can get things done and destroy people in the process. And that’s something we talked about with the client, is that there can be a get it done at all costs so you can say check the box of complete. Now, it also means no one wants to work with you. It means people probably didn’t grow in the process. It means a lot of people got blamed in the process and also the ripple effect of the destruction of social relationships for those people who had to give it all their attention and energy, cancel plans, do whatever it took to get it done, to be a hero essentially everyday so that one person could get credit for and they probably weren’t that one person. This seems like an antidote or a way to think differently about what accountability and success actually looks like.

14:40 – 15:10
David Tate

Absolutely. Chris, I couldn’t have said it better. You don’t want to accomplish at the expense of all of the people involved. So, you may get the thing done, but if at the end people are saying’ I don’t want to do that ever again,’ or it leaves people feeling more disengaged, more overwhelmed, we’re not doing anyone a service and it’s not sustainable. It’s easier to get to burnout.

15:10 – 15:26
Chris Thornton

I think an initial reaction to conscious accountability can be, ‘okay so nobody’s accountable for anything.’ And it’s just how you feel at the end of it, did you hit the mark. I don’t hear you saying that at all. It’s very much about outcomes.

15:28 – 16:27
David Tate

It is, it’s a both and. Now, there can be cultures that are so focused on people that they forget about the results – we wouldn’t want to go in that direction either. We want to say look, the win-win is when you can have great results and stronger relationships because of the work. Humans are…we need connection. We’ve seen so much of this during the pandemic when we don’t have the connection, when we’re lacking that, the isolation, the damage, and the problems that can create. So, we thrive on connection – conscious accountability says hey let’s leverage that connection – our human need for connection to do great work so again it’s pairing those two things results in a relationship that hopefully creates a winning equation.

16:27 – 16:44
Chris Thornton

So, let’s keep following that. If that’s the hunger and need and there’s a winning equation that’s part of that, is there a specific role that you see leaders playing in fostering that environment, especially in a virtual and hybrid working environment?

16:44 – 18:06
David Tate

Yeah absolutely. So, leaders play a vital role, I would say, in creating connections and creating that environment and need to be especially mindful and intentional about doing that especially in the changing world of work where hybrid and virtual is the new norm for many places. So, there’s a couple ways I think they can do that. First of all, even starting with onboarding new team members – such an important process of helping people get connected to the team. So not just adding a new team member and introducing them, but really taking the time to let them understand who these other folks are, who we are as a team, what each person’s super powers or gifts are that may be privy to that team and what are their preferences in terms of how they like to work or how they don’t like to work, and really laying those things out, and again, bringing more consciousness to the team about who each person is so that they can be more aware of how best to interact with one another in their teamwork together. So, leaders can really…they set the table for that to happen or not.

18:06 – 18:08
Chris Thornton

They sure do, can I dig in on that one?

18:08 – 18:09
David Tate

Absolutely.

18:09 – 19:12
Chris Thornton

Please know that I’m totally on your side. We’ve instituted that at Daggerwing of building, what we call Superteams, for fun – little Super Friends reference for those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s. But understanding people strengths, understanding preferences, understanding personal obligations like during the school year I have to take my kids to school and sometimes pick them up from school, so you know, I will join but I might call in as opposed to show my face. So those kinds of things, and also what am I good at, what am I not good at, where am I trying to grow and try to develop. I think a skeptical leader who is not conscious of these things is going to go “this is a bunch of soft bullshit that’s not going to get me anywhere, I mean come on why don’t we get to work and start delivering! And we can learn about each other in the process – this is too much focus on people and not actually doing work.” How do you respond to that?

19:12 – 20:09
David Tate

You know, sometimes, I would say you may be leaving money on the table. It may appear to be efficient but until you begin running into problems. And then if you think about problems that teams begin to have, you can have all sorts of bottlenecks – if you’re not building those relationships, you’re not building psychological safety, you end up having conflicts that can’t get surfaced, that can’t get adequately addressed and that’s actually tremendously inefficient for the team. So, I would argue that what seems soft is actually creating a fabric so that the team can work through, together, hard issues and be more efficient in how it uses its best resources which are the actual team members.

20:09 – 20:40
Chris Thornton

That’s a really powerful argument because the skeptic has to have everything work perfectly. Or if they’re just going to iron fist their way through all of the problems, then no one ever wants to work with them again – they become the tyrant as opposed to the growing and nurturing leader that you actually learned from (being part of their team). I think you’re absolutely right in leaving the money on the table and they have no safety net, you have no fabric that’s holding people together when things are going to get tough – and they absolutely will get tough.

20:41 – 21:18
David Tate

Yeah ,that’s right, you have to really be thinking about building the team’s capability as a unit, and so the more strength and muscle we can build around that team, through greater awareness of who each other is, and also coming to agreement on ‘how will we work together?’ when things get tough. ‘What are the ways in which we’re going to be together?’ And having those things clear and on the table, like ‘this is how we do this.’ That creates safety, actually, that allows people to move through conflict and actually be the source of creativity.

21:18 – 21:57
Chris Thornton

Absolutely. When you think about the book, conscious accountability, and you’ve got a leader who’s reading that saying ‘okay, I can see what you’re saying but it feels all too overwhelming. Even onboarding people, I don’t even know where to start because I’m so behind in getting my delivering. I can’t make time for it.’ What do you say to that person about what’s one simple action or a couple simple actions they can take to start moving towards conscious accountability?

21:57 – 23:28
David Tate

You know, one of the things that leaders can do, and again this sounds simple – it’s actually a lot harder than it sounds, but it’s really about creating clarity. So, how can you, as a leader, help bring clarity to a couple of things – like ‘why are we here?’ I listened to the podcast that you did with Ranjay Gulati on deep purpose – which is a great episode by the way, but really getting clear on ‘what are we going for here,’ ‘why are we here,’ ‘what are we trying to achieve together.’ And then trying to make sure we understand what are the expectations that we hold for each other, what are each person’s roles and responsibilities is in getting us there. So really thinking about working towards – and I say working towards deliberately – we say creating clarity takes a lot of humility and patience and it’s going to take a number of rounds back and forth to get to a place where there’s really mutually shared expectations. But I would encourage leaders to start there. Because you can’t have accountability if you’re not clear on to whom you’re accountable and for what. So that’s really the starting place, is that piece – really dialing in.

23:28 – 24:03
Chris Thornton

David, going back to our conversation earlier about creating space to hear your own voice that’s trying to speak to you, it’s getting a little meta in asking yourself ‘why are we here?’ ‘What are we trying to get done?’ ‘How will it benefit people?’ ‘What should it feel like at the end of it?’ ‘Is it feeling the way I want it to feel?’ ‘If not, why not?’ It’s really creating space to think about the why and the what and the how, and how you’re leading it. I really love that. That’s a very easy way to get started.

24:03 – 24:39
David Tate

And that’s a great observation because I think making the connection between the two, creating space for that introspection and asking those sorts of questions to oneself and getting clear inside first and then working together to get clear with other people. It’s both.

24:21 – 24:36
Chris Thornton

Not at them or imposing on them but making them part of the conversation because you got clear on what your intent was. That seems like a very simple way to start, and probably a profound way to start for people who are starting out on that journey.

24:36 – 24:37
David Tate

Yeah, absolutely.

24:39 – 24:56
Chris Thornton

We’ve already talked about one of my clients but we’re helping many clients transform their culture. I know that’s something that you write about in your book – can you walk us through what those practices are to build a culture? I think there are seven practices, is that right?

24:56 – 28:34
David Tate

That’s right. So, we call this the CONNECT framework – it’s an acronym. And I’ll walk you through the seven practices of the CONNECT framework. So, we think of CONNECT in two ways – first of all, the idea of consciousness as being an awareness, as a game-changer that upgrades accountability 1.0 to conscious accountability. It’s really about being aware of yourself and the people around you, and aware of the interdependencies that we have with one another. And so, CONNECT – when we become more aware we actually make synaptic connections, neural connections. This idea of consciousness is embedded in the word CONNECT, for us. Secondly, the idea of connecting with yourself and other people is an important part of, again, why conscious accountability is different. So that’s why we chose CONNECT. So, it’s seven practices – the first we actually already talked about – Creating clarity. That’s the first C, and that’s creating clarity for mutual goals and shared expectations. So, that’s the first practice. The second practice is Opening up engagement. This is about, once we get a sense of where we’re going and our roles and responsibilities, in order to create that environment where conscious accountability can come fully to life – we need to create a place where people feel engaged, committed, and safe to voice their authentic experience and point of view. So, that’s the next sort of practice – how do we help create commitment and psychological safety and engagement. The next practice is nailing it, which is quite simply doing what you’ll say you’ll do and helping others do the same. Again, sounds easy enough, but we know we’re all spinning many plates, and wearing different hats, and there’s competing commitments, and sometimes pop-up priorities that interfere with our ability to deliver on what we say. So, nailing it is the next practice – figuring out how to manage all those things and cross the finish line in ways that we aspire to. The next practice is called Noticing. As we’re working to nail it, part of that is bringing awareness to our own experience, and to what we’re seeing on our team, and it’s kind of like if you see something, say something. With the idea that we can also check in with people – for example, sometimes leaders delegate something and just expect it’s going to happen. And then they’re surprised when ‘oops,’ somebody didn’t quite know what they were doing or didn’t quite have the resources that they needed to get it done. So, noticing id about checking in with people, checking in with yourself, and having conversations that can allow a course correction to happen midway as you’re working to get things done. The next letter is E, and that’s Exchanging feedback. That includes soliciting feedback from other people, giving feedback to others, and receiving feedback – all for the sake of learning and growth. This promotes accountability because it gives us information about how we’re doing, and we can’t actually get better improve without that feedback.

28:34 – 29:31
Chris Thornton

Yeah, and just want to pause there. Something’s resonating strongly with me where I observe someone who’s getting feedback start to, instead of receiving it, they’re essentially saying ‘well you don’t understand, here’s what I’m doing, let me explain,’ as opposed to actively hearing what the other person had to say. They went into, not even defense mode, it was something odd which I’d never seen before which was flurry and flustered (I guess it was a form of defense), but it was more of like ‘you don’t understand what’s going on, let me tell you what’s happening, I’ve got this all figured out,’ – and it widened the gap between how the team was able to work together, how this person was able to succeed – it’s really interesting about opening that up and being open to it.

29:31 – 32:37
David Tate

I’ll tell you this, Chris. Number one I think, this practice of (and when I speak to different groups about this framework), this is the one that leaders say I am most challenged by. Or most people say this is the thing that’s most challenging. And I actually do a lot of work with leaders around how can they get better at soliciting, giving, and receiving feedback and teaching others to do that. I think folks are wired for defensiveness, and so I think a lot of work can be done about actually laying the groundwork to create cultures where feedback can be done in a way where it’s supportive and where people don’t have to feel like they need to have their guard up or to explain everything away. So, again, framing it in terms of what we’re going for here is learning, and also helping people understand that the one thing you cannot know about yourself is the impact you’re having on someone else. And so, we need other people to give us that information. We can’t know that – we can try to read what other people may be experiencing, but unless people tell us, we can’t know that ourselves. We say it takes two to know one because you need that mirror to help you see parts of yourself that you can’t quite see. So, you can create environments where that becomes the norm – it’s done really with the spirit of building people up, not tearing them down – it can really make the difference. So, that’s exchanging feedback. Th next part is about Claiming it, which is all about owning your results and taking responsibility for them. For leaders that may mean sharing responsibility, sharing the success with other people, and also owning the failures as well. And again, with an eye towards how are we learning from this. And that leads us to the last practice which is Trying again. That’s the T – so using what you learned and applying it to the next situation. So, we’re always learning. This whole CONNECT framework is essentially an experiential learning process by which we do things, we step back, we get some feedback about them, we learn, and we come back at it, and we work on getting better together over time.

32:37 – 32:25
Chris Thornton

I love it. So helpful, so practical, and profound when put into practice.

32:25 – 33:03
David Tate

And again, we talk about it as practices because conscious accountability, in many ways, is like a destination that we never fully arrive at but we’re always on the road to, and always working to improve the way we practice. And some days you practice it great, and other days we totally bomb. And both are okay because both can generate learning and help us get better.

33:03 – 33:32
Chris Thornton

And without conscious accountability, you’ve got a win-lose situation. But with conscious accountability, there’s that intent of it can be even better tomorrow. I like that so much. David Tate, Professor at Yale University School of Management and CEO of Conscious Growth Partners and co-author (of what sounds like is going to be an incredible book) Conscious Accountability coming out this fall. Thank you so much for joining us today.

33:32 – 33:35
David Tate

Chris, thanks so much it’s been such a pleasure being here.

More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.
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