Future leaders need more than strategic vision. They also need to develop skills that inspire greater buy-in and ownership for what matters most to organizations today.

The American workforce has shifted dramatically over the course of the last decade, keeping pace with a rapidly evolving marketplace. Disruption impacts every industry and market today, forcing organizations to keep up or become irrelevant. Employee expectations have shifted, as well. Driven by technology, the office-bound culture of years past has been replaced by a more remote workforce, in which 43% of all U.S. employees have swapped the corner office for the home office.

At the heart of this shift are millennials, who tend to prioritize work-life balance and flexibility. According to data from the Pew Research Center, these changemakers already account for more than one-third of the American workforce.

How do organizations develop next-generation leaders who can navigate changing labor norms and highly disrupted markets? A forward-looking approach requires more than effective strategy development; it requires leaders to master how to shift employee mindsets and company culture in order to maximize performance, innovation and, ultimately, results.

How Company Culture Affects Results

When a global aerospace and defense technologies company was tasked with delivering 26 retrofitted airplanes in three years, it relied on its tried-and-true processes to achieve results. It divided aircraft workers into groups, each with its own clearly defined roles and responsibilities: cockpit crew, fuselage team, wing workers and more. When one team was done with its section, it would pass the plane along to another team, and so on, until the aircraft was complete. While this method had achieved results in the past, the company quickly ran into trouble.

The older aircraft required the teams to make several unique adaptations due to changes in models throughout the years. Instead of discussing adaptations to the planes as a whole, each team created its own workarounds that, when presented to the next team in the chain, spurred confusion, led to finger-pointing and brought work to a standstill. The organization quickly found itself behind schedule and over budget.

To get back on track, the company needed to shift existing beliefs, which were rooted in the notion of divergent roles and responsibilities. Desired results are only achievable through effective action, and the actions that any one person takes are informed by his or her personal beliefs.

In order to shift employees’ beliefs away from notions of siloed, divergent responsibilities toward an understanding of the value of collaborative problem-solving, executives rallied team leaders. They chose to focus on cultivating the belief that is most effective in delivering desired results: accountability. They ensured every team leader understood that accountability is not the same as responsibility but, rather, a choice to rise above desirable or undesirable circumstances and take personal, psychological ownership of the achievement of shared objectives — in this case, the completion each aircraft as a whole.

Team leaders then held accountability meetings for more than 900 employees, detailing a new, accountability-driven formula for success and igniting a sense of pride in the work they could achieve together. Within a matter of months, the company found itself ahead of schedule and below budget. It was able to achieve the desired result of retrofitting the fleet of aircraft and, perhaps more importantly, had developed a group of leaders whose leadership styles were now centered upon accountability.

This organization achieved success by developing culture-savvy leaders who experienced the significant impact that a culture of accountability plays in critical outcomes. By replacing ill-conceived notions of accountability as punitive and retroactive with the idea that you can leverage it to accelerate both desired outcomes and professional development, all employees (not only leaders) voluntarily assumed ownership for achieving results, communicated and collaborated to increase operational efficiency, developed innovative solutions at speed, and drove results. In this way, the organization was able to maintain its stronghold in the market.

A Four-step Framework for New Leaders

The most important skill for next-generation leaders to develop is the ability to hold others accountable in a positive, principled way. To support their development of this skill, organizations must build an accountability framework into their culture that encourages all employees rise to the occasion, upheld by a deep sense of engagement and a clear understanding of business goals.

Set your new leaders up for success by teaching this simple, four-part road map that shifts the culture of the organization — the normative attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that define the company — and inspires greater accountability for results:

  1. See critical performance gaps early.
  2. Own the responsibility of closing those gaps — regardless of role or title.
  3. Using creative problem-solving, solve the toughest problems hampering success.
  4. Do what it takes to execute the most effective solutions for maximizing performance.

When this accountability framework is understood and practiced across the company and positively reinforced by leaders, the company culture begins to change. Soon, each employee rises to the occasion by owning his or her role and proactively searching for solutions, even when those solutions might be outside their purview. This is when breakthroughs happen.

What’s more, this framework helps you identify the natural leaders in your organization: The people who are most effective at seeing, owning, solving and doing will be strategically positioned to take on higher roles, driven by their sense of personal accountability.

Preparing the Next Generation of Leaders

In a culture of accountability, leadership development doesn’t hinge on long, intensive training. With the right people-focused framework in place, natural leaders rise to the surface, propelled by the onus to bridge performance gaps and practice creative problem-solving that drives results. In a labor force characterized by remote work, intergenerational teams and rapid rates of marketplace change, these leadership traits have never proven more important. With accountability-driven leaders at the helm, modern challenges become conquerable.

Executives looking to set the stage for the next generation of leaders must start by laying the groundwork for an accountability-centered culture. This environment will create space for natural leaders to emerge, bolster operational efficiency and position the organization for sustained success.

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