I have worked with three business leaders recently who are struggling with performance of their business during this economic downturn. I have also worked with several who are having record years during the same economic downturn. All of these businesses have a few things in common – they are all in the same industry and have similar business models. So, why are some performing and some not performing?

Interestingly, the three businesses that are struggling all have something in common – they are representative of what I’d call a culture of likability. The ones that are performing also have something in common – they are all representative of a culture of accountability. What’s the difference?

A little analysis of these situations reveals a few common elements of high performing cultures: leadership, teamwork, and focus on results. I will focus on these three topics in this and the next two posts.

The business leaders in question utilizing behavioral science profiles and 360-degree surveys revealed to me that the ones who are struggling in a culture of likability are business leaders who are very relationship oriented and the ones experiencing high performance in a culture of accountability are more task oriented.

This brings up a need to define leadership. Leadership, as John Maxwell notes, is fundamentally about influence. However, in these struggling businesses, there is no lack of influence that the leaders have. The problem is that the influence these leaders have has generated a high level of commitment to them as leaders. They have taken the first step, but only the first step, of leadership.

The true mark of a leader is found in those with a culture of accountability. Leadership is not simply to influence people to follow you, but to influence people in such a way that they develop a commitment to accomplishing a specific task or purpose. This is the fundamental difference between having a culture of likability or a culture of accountability. The bottom line is that the task is the ultimate boss, and the leader’s job is not to build a team of people that are committed to him or her, but that are committed to following him or her in the pursuit of and accomplishment of a particular task. I commented to one of these leaders that his team would follow him anywhere; it’s just that they don’t know where he’s going. It is true that your people must buy into you before they buy into your vision, but they must eventually buy into your vision. “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

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