The Importance of Focus and Accountability in Leadership

One of the main causes of failure is frequently “lack of focus,” which leads to the team, department, or company doing the wrong job. No matter how well you perform the wrong job, you are doomed to failure.

When I talk about FAST Leadership, I always talk about why projects fail and how FAST can help us make sure they don’t happen again.

There is one incident that perfectly highlights this: the French Rail debacle, where a French state-owned railway firm ordered 2,000 trains that were “too wide” for the platforms.

Unbelievable, but true, they have built trains that are too wide, such that they cannot currently be used in 1300 of the 8,700 railway stations.

The engineers at the French railway network forgot to go and measure the actual distance between tracks and platforms.

In many of the stations, the problem is just a matter of a few centimetres, but even so, too wide is too wide, even if it’s just a millimetre.

It doesn’t matter how well you build the trains if they are too big and consequently not fit for purpose, you have failed.

You have delivered the wrong thing. You were doing the wrong job!

Focus is all about having a clear picture of success and understanding what’s needed in order to achieve our goal.  Having the trains able to operate at all stations clearly needs to be part of the vision for success.

Another one of the key reasons for failure is a ‘lack of Accountability’, and Accountability is about who does the job, the what, and do they have the right skills, do they have the right expectations, do they know clearly what their role and responsibility is.

Missing accountability was also a factor in this failure, which resulted again in the wrong job being done. This was because of the wrong assumptions that were made about who was responsible for what.

Part of the problem stems from the separation of the rail organization into two different companies: the Train Operator who is responsible for the trains, and the Rail Operator who is responsible for the network and the stations.

The Train Operator has admitted to failing to verify measurements given by the Rail Operator before ordering the new trains.

They probably just assumed that it was the job of the Rail Operator to provide accurate data and therefore no need to check it.

Obviously, the Rail Operator probably expected the data to be validated before the start of the ordering and building of 2,000 new trains.

This lack of clear roles and responsibilities and assumptions about who would do what compounded the problem.

By using FAST Leadership they would have had much better Focus and much clearer Accountability which would have prevented this problem from occurring.

That would have saved them the additional 50–100m Euros in cost; the reputation of the French rail companies, and the careers of the leaders, and would have allowed them to celebrate a tremendous success.

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