This Leadership Approach Accelerates Change

This is a four part series of blogs addressing the question “Can abrasive employees really change?”. Part I addressed the importance of the manager working through their own anxiety before intervening with the abrasive employee and staying calm. Part II outlined key elements of a proven change process. Today in Part III, we discuss a key ingredient to sustaining change of any kind, that is, through accountability.

“That’s not what happened, and you weren’t there”
“That’s how I was treated and look at where I am today”
“My staff is lazy, I have to be tough in order to motivate them”

When supervisors address the abrasive behavior of their employees and managers, it is common to hear one of the above responses. More often than not, abrasive employees do not see the harsh way that they interact with others; they tend to deny, rationalize, or project their behavior onto others.

What is Accountability?

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Advantage – Why organizational health trumps everything else in business, describes accountability as “having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction, which may not be pleasant” (2014, p. 14). I would add one more component to this definition, which is the “willingness to confront someone about a behavior, so they can do better.” Why? Because I believe they have it in them, until proven otherwise.

Granted holding an employee accountable about a missed deadline is not as difficult, as holding them accountable about abrasive behavior – yet both performance and behavior are equally important! How a person behaves always affects results, and more specifically, affects bottom line results when not addressed early and directly. By approaching accountability as a means to helping your employees reach their highest potential – whether it is in their measurable performance or their behavior – you will take your organization from mediocre to great, and possibly even from dysfunction to healthy.

The “and/both” approach of accountability

We all have blind spots about aspects of our behavior that may rub others the wrong way.
Whether it is an irritating habit or an abrasive behavior, we are often unaware of how we come across to others, which may be insensitive or offensive.

When approaching the abrasive employee, it is important that you genuinely convey that you want to help them see how their abrasive behavior is harming others and also harming themselves. With an “and/both” approach, you are addressing the negative impact that their behavior has on others, as well as, showing there is a cost to their reputation and possibly career, if the abrasive behavior continues. This approach takes empathy on your part, whereby, your understanding that the abrasive employee has their own underlying fears. They fear that they could be perceived as incompetent, or a failure, if others don’t perform well.

Follow-through on taking action

In addition to conveying a genuine concern, the second aspect of the “and/both” approach is delivering the message that the abrasive behavior will not be tolerated and if it continues, action will be taken. Here, you are setting limits, while caring enough to confront the abrasive employee, and giving them the opportunity to change. (Crawshaw, 2007). Even if the abrasive behavior diminishes initially and eventually returns; as a supervisor, it is imperative that you follow through with the proposed action. By not following through, you send the message the abrasive behavior is acceptable in the workplace, and you are most likely, to lose the respect and trust of your employees.

The benefits of accountability

Even though addressing an employee’s behavior is uncomfortable, and more difficult to measure – than whether or not they met a sales quota or project deadline – the benefits of doing so will create a positive ripple effect throughout your organization. As a supervisor, you are setting the tone for what behavior is and is not acceptable in your workplace. By taking action and intervening, you are letting everyone in the organization know that abrasive behavior, of any kind will not be tolerated. Employees feel assured by your clarity, that abrasive behavior will be not be part of the culture of your organization.

Make “and/both” accountability part of your organizational culture

When leaders of an organization model accountability, it encourages peer-to-peer accountability. If accountability is approached with a genuine interest in the employee and from a growth perspective, change is not only likely for the individual, it will also bring out the best in all employee’s productivity, engagement, team work, and bottom line results will sky rocket!

Make the Conscious Choice to commit to organizational health by modeling accountability

This is Part III in a four part series of blogs “Can abrasive employees really change?”. In Part IV we will address the abrasive employees’s choice to change.


Crawshaw, L. (2007). Taming the Abrasive Manager: How to End Unncessary Roughness in the Workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Â

Lencioni, P. (2014). The Advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. Â San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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