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Why You Should Stress Your Employees Out

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When was the last time you felt truly accountable for something? A quick look at the old Merriam-Webster dictionary shows that accountability, by definition, means “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility…for one’s actions.” It’s shocking how often we’re part of projects for which, by virtue of being in a group, we feel only marginal levels of accountability.

Good managers drive employees to a state of self-aware vigilance, a state where each person takes responsibility not only for their actions, but how their actions translate into the success—or failure—of a project.

How can you tell if employees are actually accountable? Stress (aka anxiety).

Mark Murphy, founder of Leadership IQ, writes there are four steps people go through on their journey to accountability: Denial, blame, excuses and anxiety:

Each stage looks and sounds a little different. In denial, the boss tends to be the last one to get bad news. With blame there’s a lot of name-calling: “It’s not my fault; it’s Bob’s.” Excuses tend to get assigned to forces beyond the employee’s control, like a new process or broken equipment. And anxiety is where we hear folks sounding panicked: “This is too much” or “How are we supposed to accomplish all this?” or “We’ll never pull it off; we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.”

According to Murphy, when you hear people freaking out it might actually be a good thing. It means they’re scared, which isn’t as bad as it sounds:

Anxiety can sound terrible, but it’s actually a good indicator that your people are showing signs of ownership. They’re acknowledging there’s an issue and they’re not falling back on blame or excuses. And with a little help you can quickly move them past “total freak out” mode to “I’ve got it all handled.”

A leader’s job is to move people along the four steps and help them push beyond anxiety and become accountable. So the next time you hear your team freaking out—giving voice to their fears and doubts—don’t react with anger. Recognize what may sound like resistance or a lack of confidence actually means they’re on the right track. It’s not an excuse to go stressing your employees out intentionally, but know anxiety might be an indicator your team is on the cusp of becoming a well-oiled machine.

Read more of Murphy’s advice on helping others push through anxiety to reach accountability at Leadership IQ.

Image via prodakszyn/

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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