Effective Leaders Demand Accountability

by breeve 29. May 2011 15:00

Chef Gordon Ramsay has a show called Kitchen Nightmares where he attempts to turn around troubled restaurants. In each episode, Ramsay begins by sampling a lunch service which usually ends with him masterfully controlling his gag reflex.

More troubling than the food—Ramsay finds—is the attitude of the owner toward it. In all cases, the owners stubbornly defend their food quality arguing its merit. In efforts to prove them wrong, Ramsay can be seen making a break for the kitchen finding rotten food in the fridge, old frozen dishes, and if he is lucky dead mice.

Worse than the dead mice is the owner’s dead leadership. Many have bad chefs and fail to hold them accountable. Worse—in an effort not to make waves—the owner rationalizes their performance encouraging slothfulness all around him.

Nothing does more harm to an organization than failure to hold poor performers accountable. Wimpy leaders, rather than confront bad performers, lower the bar allowing the limp to clear it. But far more damaging than the lowered bar is its effect on high performers. Quality performers want to work with quality performers but when accountability is lacking they get discouraged and will either leave or stop performing themselves.

Ramsay knows effective leaders don’t lower the bar but expect all to rise to it. Quality restaurants have high standards which employees are held to. Strong leaders spend more time rewarding effective employees and less time dragging along the bad ones.

Ramsay can be accused of many things but no one is better at holding people accountable. Far from the frozen dishes and rotten food that plague many restaurants, his restaurants have a reputation of excellence that any master chef would jump to work for. By demanding high standards and taking quick action when those standards are not met, he has created an organization of high performers and quality food.

Just like restaurants depend on good chefs to make quality food, software companies depend on good programmers to make quality software. Unfortunately, the same problems of leadership accountability that effect restaurants haunt software shops. Littered around the information highway are failing software companies that have created a culture of mediocrity.

And like frozen food that is heated before service, customers can tell. Although customers don’t eat the software, they know when it causes a bad taste in their mouth.

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About Me

I am a Principal Engineer with 13 years experience developing and releasing software products. I started developing in C/C++ then moved into .NET and C# and have tech lead multiple projects. I have developed products in Windows Forms, ASP.NET/MVC, Silverlight, and WPF. I currently reside in Austin, Texas.

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