March 20

Whac-a-Mole Management | WT #44

Have you ever played Whac-a-Mole? It’s a 1970s-era arcade game (adapted from its Japanese originator), and is still popular today. In pop-culture, the expression “whac-a-mole,” (also frequently spelled as “whack”) quickly became associated with what one may refer to as a repetitious and futile task: each time a task is finished or a problem is dealt with, just like that nasty mole, another or problem raises its head.

A classic example? Keeping others accountable. Many leaders struggle with establishing accountability because they lapse into “managing accountability” like it’s a project itself, instead of actually forming accountable people through character building, and leading by example. Hence, the endless game of Whac-a-Mole begins.

I recall speaking with a client about accountability. It felt as though he thought it was his responsibility to “manage accountability,” almost like a first-grade teacher. But it wasn’t. His responsibility was to LEAD by forming character in his people. CHARACTER NATURALLY EMBRACES ACCOUNTABILITY.

How do you form character, and this accountability? Anyone over the age of eight responds to connection and character. When leading others, we have to sense we have a connection with them before leading them. Then, we use our character to help form their character, which increases accountability.

Candidly, Whac-a-Mole can be a fun game (good at testing reflexes!). But if you feel as though you’re playing it with your kids or your team, it may be a sign to take a pause and rethink your leadership.

About the author 

Darren Smith

Darren Smith is Co-Founder of the Authentic Leadership Institute. He is a native Texan and a graduate of Dallas Jesuit and Texas A&M University. Over the past 25 years, Darren has visited 35 countries and led 100 strategy programs. He and his wife have five children.


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