Accountability is a Team Sport, not a Private Affair

AccountabilityAccountability is like resuscitation for employees who have checked out. But sadly, some are afraid to use it.

I remember the first time I did CPR on a real human being.

I was terrified. For a moment, I forgot how.

I had all this training.  I had even trained others. I was even a freshly minted EMT.  And I was about ready to soil my pants, terrified that I might do more harm than good.

And then I remembered back to something that one of my trainers told me.  It’s gruesome, but it’s true.

“If you’re to the point where you have to do CPR on someone, don’t worry about doing any harm.  They’re already dead.  It can only get better from here.”

Now, is this some intense analogy by which I’m suggesting that some of your employees are dead to the world and need resuscitation by whatever means necessary?

That’s precisely what it is.

The worst part is often times many of us are nervous about getting our hands dirty with accountability for fear of doing more harm than good.

I’ll say something similar to what my CPR instructor said: You can’t do damage to someone who is already dead to the world.  And that’s exactly what some of your employees in need of accountability are.

What I Mean By Accountability

Accountability is relatively simple and consists of three parts. First, the type of accountability we’re talking about is necessary because of the commitments made between individuals in a group to each other.  It is inherently social. The group succeeds because individuals keep their commitments.

Second, accountability is an opportunity for an employee to gain genuine feedback about their performance – its completeness, fitness, and match to the job called for and agreed upon.

Third, accountability is an opportunity to retain, gain, or lose something of importance to the employee.  Good performance may simply see a retention of the same responsibility, or it may see an increase in authority for a given project.  By contrast, failure to perform will see the employee lose something: responsibility for a favorite charge, the freedom to move on to a new task, etc.

For me, success is expected and so accountability is meant to be a celebration of success.  Those things done well we learn from and apply more broadly to foster greater success.

It is when performance is not good that the penalty side of accountability comes into play, and that opens a whole other discussion.

The Common Attitude to Accountability

Occasionally, I get resistance against calling people to task in a public forum.

Age old wisdom says you must discipline in private or risk alienating your employee.

“Praise in public. Discipline in private.”


Praise in public? Why yes, nearly always.

Discipline in private?  Not so fast.

If you have a true discipline problem – i.e. someone acting out of line, breaking rules, etc. – then yes, by all means, discipline in private.

But accountability and discipline aren’t the same thing.  If you have an accountability issue, you take care of it in the group.

Why?  Three simple reasons.

  1. In accountability, the group member made the commitment to the whole group in public and is accountable to the whole group, not any one person.  One person may speak, but accountability is dealt with by the group.
  2. It often takes the whole group to solve the problem, suggesting alternative plans the group member can follow to success.
  3. If the group member is removed from the task, the whole group must immediately step in as appropriate to cover the task.

If you have an accountability problem and fail to deal with it publically, in the group, you’re doing possibly irreparable damage. First, you’re wasting your most valuable solution resource, your group, that may be able to help your group member. Second, you’re sending the message to your group that you don’t take accountability and their role in it seriously.

And then there are those employees who need resuscitation at any cost.  Those disengaged wonders who aren’t even in touch with reality. Let’s take a look at the difference between the engaged and the disengaged.

Honest Efforts Deserve Simple Accountability

Business revolves around keeping commitments, does it not?  Business is an endeavor of you and I making promises to the group that we will deliver something by a time to a certain positive effect for the group and the organization over all.  It is the keeping of commitments, really, that makes all aspects of business happen.

In business today, there are thousands of reasons why sometimes even the best plans and the best efforts don’t lead to success.  Sometimes team members just need a little more time or to try a little harder, and sometimes a reboot in approach is required. You can easily come up with a list as long or longer than mine as to why this happens.

But when a team member is engaged, there are three points that stand out.  First, they fully understood the task they committed to, and that understanding did not waiver from commitment to deadline. They owned the task completely. They owned failure to achieve.  They made no excuses for failure.

Second, the group member clearly tried.  They made their best effort. They attacked the problem.  If they weren’t sure about something or simply needed an extra hand, they asked for help. They literally did everything they could do in order to attempt to make a solution happen.

Third, they failed.  They didn’t make it.  They came up short.

In this case, any accountability to be handed out is matter-of-fact. More than likely the group member is made to finish the task.  Having the team involved here is valuable because often the best suggestions for success come from the team.

Everything Else Deserves Trial By Peers

When a team member is disengaged, three points also stand out, but they are radically different from those in the previous section.

First, all too often I find that people understand tasks they commit to far better when they make the commitment than when the deadline comes around. When the task is due, suddenly they claim that they were “never clear in the first place” (and couldn’t find clarity along the way?).  In other words, their story changes.  Additionally, they never truly owned the task as their own. This is commonly expressed as “I never got the support I needed.”

Second, the group member did not clearly try.  There is no evidence that they made their best effort or that they attacked the problem.  This is often experienced as a lack of engagement by the team member with other staff regarding the task at hand, as well as the group member defending their lack of progress with what are clearly basic questions and issues about the task.  My favorite bad behavior here is for the group member to blame the group or various others for the task not being done.

Third and finally – no surprise – they failed.  They didn’t make it.  They came up short.

Re-read this section.

There is nothing similar between the behavior listed here and the behavior in the section where I’m recommending private discipline.

The behavior in the prior section was of hard work, ownership, and honest attempts.

The behavior here is of procrastination, changing stories, lack of engagement, and blaming others.

In fact, let me make it much stronger and more accurate in the process: The statements made and the defenses offered by a disengaged group member quite often do not match reality.  It is no challenge to prove them wrong, yet they stick to their quasi-delusional story

You absolutely cannot let an employee, no matter their rank or station, get away with this sort of disruptive behavior.

Accept some harsh facts right now:

  1. This employee is not simply not performing, they’re checked out.  They’re temporarily dead to the world.  For this moment,  they’re poison.
  2. Their ability (or lack of ability) to get away with this behavior will have a direct impact on the engagement of the rest of your team.
  3. When you fail to deal with them involving the team, you set a new, lower (demoralizing) standard for the rest of the team, and you lose the team as a valuable resource to bring them in line.
  4. You should not be afraid to deal with them harshly for fear you might lose them.  You already have lost them.  Your job now is to win them back.

This person is a disruption.  You need to deal with them publically because you need the team’s help.

Accountability, a Public Affair

Let me be perfectly clear. The ultimate nirvana is a world in which positive, proactive leadership works all the time and gives rise to an environment which employees find naturally engaging. And furthermore, that employees naturally engage to their fullest and achieve to their utmost. It is incumbent on every leader to strive for this environment first and foremost.

It is also incumbent on every leader to live in the real world.  And that means the need, regularly, for accountability.

Accountability and discipline are not the same thing.  Accountability, based on a public commitment between peers, is a public affair.

Mastering Delegation, The Fire Hose of Productivity

Fire HoseSadly, I did not coin the phrase “drinking from the fire hose” – that is, experiencing a pace of productivity so exhilarating and empowering yet potentially overwhelming unless you know how to control it.  Not surprisingly, though, I have a story about delegation that was both exhilarating and involved a fire hose.

One of the more colorful jobs I recall from working myself through school was with a Fortune 100 manufacturer of construction equipment.  There, I was assigned to Cecille, the head of security, and a former State Trooper from Georgia (regular readers may notice a theme in my life).  After some good natured banter, Cecille gave me my first task.  “I want you to go around, find every fire hydrant, polish it, and then flush it out to get any rust out of the line.  Just remove the big cap and open the valve for a minute or two.  You think you can handle that?”

Not wanting to be judged incapable of turning on a valve, I replied, “Yep.”

“Good.  Here are the keys to the fire truck.  Now git.”  I always looked forward to being told to “git.”

I set off in the fire truck around the 440 acres of the plant in search of hydrants to polish and flush.  At first, things went well.  And then came the hydrant in the gravel parking lot.  Even it, too, seemed to be going fine as the water sprayed forth, casting mist and rainbows into the wind.  And then I shut off the water valve to discover to my horror that I had just used water pressure to dig a hole four feet wide, 20 feet long, and a foot and a half deep in the gravel all in two minutes or less.  That hole took the rest of the day to refill.

“Do you know what a fire truck comes equipped with?” Cecille asked, as calm as ever when I was called into his office.

“Is it a fire hose?”

Yes!” he said. “And do you know what fire hoses are good for?”

“Is it… directing all the force of the water to go where I want it without doing bad things along the way? Like ripping up your parking lot?”

YES! Now git!”

Delegation done well is a lot like that fire hose. It unleashes an amazing amount of power, yet keeps it controlled, directed, and very much aligned to the goal.  Effective delegation is the art of combining simple techniques with targeted learning styles, resulting in rapid improvements in performance, profitability, and owner satisfaction.

When Delegation Goes Wrong

Most often, delegation “goes wrong” by simply never happening. Tasks are withheld, and the would-be manager becomes a choke point in the organization, increasingly and ironically frustrated with the useless of his or her staff.  The most common reasons I hear are, “It’ll take too long to explain,” “I want it done right,” and, “Nobody can do it as well as me.”  Sound familiar?

I’m not going to argue against the truth that delegation takes time.  At first. It’s a skill of a grown-up professional manager, and when practiced, it becomes easier and more efficient.  Until then, struggle through feeling like an adolescent manager but stick with it: it’s an investment not only in yourself but in the proper functioning of your organization and your future leadership, your employees.

Then again, there are cases like the example above with Cecille where delegation happened but was haphazard at best.  Preventing these are the focus of the remainder of this article.

Delegate Like a Pro

Take stock of my seven points of delegation mastery.  Which are you a pro at and where could you use a little help?

1.         Ensure adequate skills. Unfortunately, when Cecille turned the fire hydrant task over to me, there was absolutely nothing in my job history that qualified me to drive fire trucks or perform the task at hand.  Invest the time to teach the required skills.  Expand the capabilities of your staff.

2.         Establish clear goals and expectations. How clear are the goals you set, really?  Would you understand them?  Is there room for confusion?  The more measurable your goal can be made, the more well defined the delegation task becomes.

3.         Communicate the deadline. Often, deadlines don’t get communicated because the delegator thinks they’ve presented the project with plenty of lead time.  So what happens when higher priorities crop up?  You get bumped.  Always communicate when you need results.

4.         Communicate the importance. Also communicate why. Since you’re not the only priority in life, this establishes the priority level of your project against everything else happening now or in the future.

5.         Communicate restraints and boundaries. Unless you have an unlimited budget, access to people, no restrictions on material usage, etc., now would be a good time to make your needs known.

6.         Establish accountability dates. Also known as milestones.  Success is absolutely expected and required, and that should be communicated in advance.  The purpose of these dates is to check status according to plan, celebrate success, and correct action well before the end of the project.  This is key to overcoming one of the key objections against delegation: that projects won’t get done, or won’t get done properly.

7.         Back away. Don’t micromanage.  Offer encouragement and support as needed.  Check in on the scheduled dates.  Otherwise, empower and back away.

Blending Styles

Sadly, not everyone is just like you. Some people learn differently, and if you try to teach or delegate to them in a fashion that doesn’t work for them, it may go nowhere.

We call these Learning Styles and there are three easy types to remember.  Some people learn best by telling them what to do and explaining the parts aloud.  For others, showing them is more effective as they need to see it to get it.  Last but not least, for others, doing it and trying it out for themselves under your supervision is the first time it will really sink in.  Just imagine how frustrating it can be for everyone if the teaching style and learning styles don’t match.

Interestingly, one of the most common offenders I see are people who are visual trying to tell other visual people how to do something rather than showing them.  Odd.

Wrapping Up

As with most things in life, the first key to success with delegation is to realize it is in fact necessary and to make a commitment to practice it.  It really is a skill that must be practiced and perfected.  Keep the key steps in mind and blend learning styles, and you too will unleash now levels of well-controlled power in your organization.

Dustin Walling is Principal of Dustin Walling Associates, a Seattle-based management consulting firm providing strategy and operational consulting.  For article topics, questions, or comments, Dustin can be reached at

Making Business Resolutions Happen

BalloonsWe are at an interesting time.  A struggling economy is forcing many businesses into creative action to improve their position right at the turn of the year, a time when many naturally resolve to improve and do better any way.

While this double whammy of introspection still hasn’t inspired everyone to new levels of action and success, in my own practice, I have definitely noticed an uptick in leaders pulling out all stops and resolving to make 2009 a growth year despite conventional wisdom.

So what are your peers doing to get ahead?  And how do they plan to make their 2009 business resolutions stick?  This is the approach I see proactive leaders following.

Focus on a Few, Critical Issues

Years ago, I was trying to organize my “top few priorities” and to do so, wrote each on a separate sticky note and placed it on my cabinet door.  Before I knew it, my “little list” had grown beyond the cabinet door to the wall.  Just then one of my employees walked in, saw what I was doing, and began laughing.  I didn’t think she was going to stop.

It was indeed a ridiculous sight. Many of us have done something like it, whether on sticky notes, notepads, or Outlook tasks. The challenge is when the list gets too long, it’s not effective.

In my practice, I find that there are generally around one or two truly “log jam” issues – things that are absolutely holding the organization back, or killing it, and then a few more that are truly important.  Find the few issues that are truly critical to the success of your organization, focus on these, and use the old 80/20 rule to allocate your effort.

Define Performance Factors

I confess, I’m a numbers person.  I find it very hard to change something unless I can define that something clearly, and measure it.  Let me give an example that flows from a couple different organizations I work with.

Imagine you’ve identified that the quality of your service isn’t what it should be. That’s not good!  “Quality needs to be better!” you say, and you’re right, but that’s not very helpful.  How do you measure “better,” how do you report on it in meetings, and how do you set goals and know they’re achieved?

It’s better to start with Performance Factors – measurable indicators of performance from which we can set goals.  In this example, quality is measured by factors like: client satisfaction ratings, number of complaints per month, etc.  In this way, now we can measure where quality is, and set clear goals to make it change.  And that’s next.

Set Clear Goals

I always enjoy meeting clients for the first time because I never know what new adventure I’m getting myself into.  Everyone’s ideas are unique, and their goals are unique, and the most exciting part of my job is to pull out each person’s passion and help make their goals as clear and doable as possible by breaking them down into seemingly simple steps.

Part of that process, for me, is to get extremely clear on what needs to change.  Let’s go back to our very simple client example of improving quality.  One of the Critical Factors identified was “client satisfaction ratings.”  It’s very easy, now, to create a crystal clear goal like, “Improve client satisfaction ratings by five percentage points in the next 180 days.”

We’ve just gone from “Quality needs to be better,” to “Ratings need to be five points better,” in just a few steps.  That should even begin to feel more clear, positive and action-oriented to you.  The question that remains is how?

Create Clear Plans of Action

The key to a good plan of action is to quickly draft all the required action items you can think of and then ask yourself whether the objective would be accomplished if you only did the things on your list. Nine times out of ten, clients in my planning sessions quickly say, “Well no, we’d also need to…” Write it down!

Assign individuals to tasks, and due dates as well.  Get a well formed plan.  For our quality improvement example, I’d expect to see tasks like: a pre-survey of clients, a meeting to determine forward action, items about a few key things that are known that must change, monthly spot-checks of client attitude, a post-survey at six months, and a post-planning meeting to discuss results and next steps.

Establish Accountability

I could write many words on accountability, but let me just mention four key points to remember. It’s about: 1) celebrating success, 2) correcting course when needed, 3) problem solving, and 4) it is not easy for many people to do.

The action plan provides the groundwork and serves as one tool in creating accountability, but accountability is a regular, ongoing process that must be carried out and is the mark of leadership.  While you do not have to provide all the accountability throughout your organization, it is a core part of your leadership duty to ensure that it happens (if you are the owner, who will hold you accountable, after all?).

Do it, learn it, or seek help.  Find your business consultant/coach, CPA, or other professional advisor for guidance.

Wrapping Up

Resolutions can be kept.  Goals can be achieved.  You can make things happen.  Even in challenging economies, there is business to be had.  This formula is what I see successful organizations using to get ahead.

Dustin Walling is Principal of Dustin Walling Associates, a Seattle-based management consulting firm providing strategy and operational consulting.  For article topics, questions, or comments, Dustin can be reached at

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A Micromanager’s Guide to Trust, Teamwork, and Communication

TeamworkThe unavoidable truth is micromanagement makes us feel better and that’s why we do it.  Like the nicotine in a cigarette, it calms the nervous manager, providing information and visibility into situations where it would otherwise be lacking.  We gain our “hit” of easy information, our twitching eases, and we can move on to something else for a while.

The problem is that just like the nicotine in cigarettes comes laden with a cadre of things that will kill you, micromanagement too carries a host of cancer-causing effects that poison an organization and wreak havoc in the minds of even dedicated workers.  Likewise, such an intense hands-on approach is no way to scale an organization, fails to develop new leadership, and traps existing managers in a relentless daily grind.  Most managers realize this – even new ones – and don’t break their habits simply out of lack of knowledge, lack of ideas, or… well… habit.

The real fact of the matter is that micromanagement is usually a reaction to a problem that, rather than addressing and eliminating the problem directly, serves as a convenient power play to side-step the issue all together.  But more effective solutions are available for gaining visibility, providing accountability, and taking issues head-on.

On-Board Terrorists
What is it that kicks off a good round of micromanaging, anyway?  For some it literally may be as simple as the need for information without the skill to gain it in any other way.  For others, a different issue may be at work.

Do you have information terrorists in your organization?  You know the kind.  People that won’t let go of information, but instead guard it close?  What are the impacts of this behavior to their co-workers, their team, and the company at large when they refuse to communicate?  What is the impact on trust in the group around them, or the spirit of teamwork?  Sometimes micromanagement can be a coping mechanism for poor employee behavior.  But rather than simply cope, it’s better to address the root issue.

One for All
Is it ever okay for an employee to declare their own personal little fiefdom?   Do “we the people” have the right to carve off a corner of the company from the whole, taking vital company data and information with?  And yet when on-board terrorists go to work, this is exactly what happens.

Any sense of teamwork is lost.  It is, in fact, the company’s data, the company’s information, the company’s sales leads, etc., and we are charged with creating, working, and furthering them.  As soon as the “pronoun problem” becomes internalized and people begin to believe in terms of “my” instead of “our,” teamwork is a concept instead of reality.

Bring it Together
What systems of accountability are in place in your organization?  All I have to do in order to generate a roll of the eyes with a client is to point out they don’t trust their employees and tell them they need to get past it.  But if you think “get past it” means “blind trust” you’re dead wrong.

I don’t advocate blind trust for the same reason I’m not a big fan of trust falls and quite a few other “team building” exercises.  Want to build a team?  Accomplish something – preferably something challenging.

Good systems of accountability feature at least three things.  First, they clearly define goals and personal responsibilities.  Second, they create a regular, predictable, controlled forum in which status on responsibilities is reported and progress towards goals is made clear.  Third and finally, they create an environment where the expectation within the group is that success is expected from all.

In this environment, trust is built and reinforced through success.  Teamwork is an integral component as the collective problem solves toward common goals.  Communication simply happens because it is the standard operating procedure.  Whereas the micromanager may cycle between extremes of over-communication and hands-off indifference in the name of “staying informed,” the accountable manager produces better results through better information, more often.

And a Caveat
Let’s be fair.  If an employee is new to a role or a set of skills, then hands-on, close-contact management may be appropriate, particularly if the job is technical.  This isn’t called micromanagement, though.  It’s called training and it’s critical for success.

Wrapping Up
We can micromanage our way around the on-board anti-communication terrorists… only to face them another day.  We can side-step issues of teamwork in the same way, and even get around lack of trust in a team, all while strong-arming the information needed.

But a better alternative is to address the fundamental issues directly and not accept lack of trust, teamwork, or communication as standard operating procedure.  The fundamental step is to take a different approach of installing systems of accountability that help to encourage and reinforce trust, teamwork, and communication.  The net effect is improved information flow, increased productivity, and improved profitability.

Dustin Walling is Principal of Dustin Walling Associates, a Seattle-based management consulting firm providing strategy and operational consulting to small and medium businesses.  For article topics, questions, or comments, Dustin can be reached at

Sabotage Your Business in Ten Easy Steps

ClosedThe nice thing about cars is they’re predictable. Every model has its own quirks that tend to act up like clockwork, and any mechanic worth his salt can tell you what to look for.  I remember my 1987 Honda Accord (an otherwise exceptional vehicle) had a body joint below each tail light that, as if on cue, rusted out… right along with every other 1987 Honda Accord in the exact same spot.

It’s the same with businesses.  Businesses tend to have very common cracks and crevices that expand and contract as the business ages, acquires and loses experienced people, or as too little attention is paid.  Knowing what to look for and being prepared to counteract the cracks before they become seriously rusty is a hallmark of a good leader and profitable business person.  Below, I review 10 of the most common cracks that, if left untreated, tend to lead to an unprofitable demise.

#1 – Lack of Accountability
Lack of accountability spreads like a malignant tumor throughout an organization: quietly and surely, if allowed.

The symptoms are even more subtle than, “I can’t hold my people responsible for anything.” In organizations that lack a culture of accountability, it’s often unclear who is responsible for what objective or initiative, unclear what the necessary outcome is, and often unclear what the implications of failure are.

Accountable organizations are skilled at negotiating these building blocks and putting them in place so staff knows what is required and can “count” on one another.

#2 – Lack of Vision, Mission, and Values
I had a dream that the GPS unit in my car had no idea where it was taking me. That’s a bit like a business with no vision, and therefore no clearly defined future goal in mind. What are you aiming for?  As for your mission, what is it that you do, and for whom, in order to get to that goal? As for values, why do you do it and what do you stand for? So many businesses just “are” but aren’t “becoming” anything.

#3 – Poor Strategic and Tactical Planning
Knowing where you’re going is one thing, but crafting a plan to get there is another. There is no substitute for a good strategic plan or business plan, and that also includes market planning, sales planning, staff planning, and budgeting. Quite commonly, the approach to one or more of these critical plans is simply to “make it up as we go along.”

#4 – Fractured Decision-Making
Balance the coin on edge and look at both sides. On the one side, you have simple lack of decision making. It comes from analysis paralysis and fear, from organizational structures that don’t share authority, and very often from unclear vision, mission, and values.

On the other side, you have decisions that get made but not carried out. The new product launch that never quite gets developed.  The employee that never quite gets let go.  The act of making a decision without living it out is one of the best ways to sabotage success.

#5 – Not Focused on Critical Factors for Success
Knowing where you’re going is one thing, but being able to measure progress along the way is golden. Too many businesses get caught up in dozens of initiatives without measuring against critical factors – tangible measures of whether they’re making progress toward end goals. Measures like business development volume, customer service quality, productivity, and yes, revenue.

#6 – Ineffective Performance Management
In accountable organizations, not only is it clear who has ownership for tasks and initiatives, but performance is checked regularly and routinely.  Meetings are crisp, action-oriented, check for successful results, and assign new action for the future.  Organizations lacking performance management often complain that they set the same goals over and over again, or that they come up with really great ideas but often fail to achieve them.

#7 – “Do-ers,” not Leaders
Many people get into business because they’re good at something.  The problem comes when they don’t step out of what they’re good at and run the business. There’s a radical difference between doing work and leading a business and shaping its future. Working extended hours, failure to delegate, filling in for missing skills of others, and constantly getting caught up in day-to-day tasks is a sure sign of an owner who is doing, not leading.

#8 – Failure to Develop Future Leaders
So you’re going to turn your business over to your kids one day. Have you actually asked if they want it? Succession planning is neither instant nor a one-way activity. It begins with the future leader, building in them the skills and – often more importantly – the stature to handle the job.  It’s important to begin building leadership skills early and often.

This goes beyond succession planning, too. People get sick, go on vacation, take sabbaticals, and the like. Building the breadth and depth of your leadership bench reaps you returns both in ability to handle the unexpected as well as creating the sense of ownership business owner dream for their staff to have.

#9 – Lack of Trust, Cooperation, and Teamwork
Are there terrorists in your business?  People who hold information hostage and won’t share? Or simply people who don’t trust or understand one another?  From strong personalities, to organizational confusion, the causes are many. Regardless, lack of trust, cooperation, and teamwork is deadly and must be addressed.

#10 – Confusion in Duties and Organizational Structure
If you look around and see turf wars brewing, a squabble over duties and reporting structure is the likely culprit.  In a word, power.  This also shows up as reduced productivity and, yes, lack of trust, cooperation, and teamwork.

Don’t Be a Saboteur – Self Assess
Stop being a do-er for just a minute, put on your leader’s hat, and take a good honest look at your business in light of the ten points above.  How many of them do you see?

One or two – You’re probably in good shape.  Monitor closely and think about how to mend.

Three or four – The crack is widening.  Right now, turn your attention to how to close the gaps.

Five to Seven – This is critical.  Prioritize the most serious, take action, and seek help.

Eight to Ten – Red Alert.  Seek help immediately to implement a turnaround action plan.

Keep an eye out for the patterns and work to counteract them.  It will be the hallmark of your leadership.

Dustin Walling is Principal of Dustin Walling Associates, a Seattle-based management consulting firm providing strategy and operational consulting to small and medium businesses.  For article topics, questions, or comments, Dustin can be reached at