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How do you really hold someone accountable? – Part 1

by Rick Baker
On Sep 1, 2015

Recently, my friend asked me, "How do you really hold someone accountable?"

I decided to post some 'general' thoughts rather than provide a 'specific' answer to my friend.

First, I think leaders and bosses who really want to help others become accountable should ask themselves, "How do I really hold myself accountable? The answer to that question will provide at least some guidance and perhaps much more…

"How do I really hold myself accountable?" If, after some self-analysis, I determine I do not hold myself accountable then I must accept I have little hope of holding others accountable or helping others become accountable. Accountability has some similarity to Trust – if leaders do not lead by example then they cannot expect their followers to perform under a higher standard.

"How do I really hold myself accountable?" I believe I am blessed with “accountability genes”. I believe I am predisposed to be more accountable than most people…including most other Baby Boomers who also experienced schooling and neighbourhoods laced with accountability feedback. If you believe you have a strong dose of “accountability genes” the messages to follow may resonate with you. If, on the other hand, you believe you are not blessed with “accountability genes” then you may think everything to follow is hogwash.

[If you think “accountability genes” is a poor description then use words like “naturally inclined to be accountable”.]

Going a step farther…

"How do you really hold yourself accountable?" Consider the impact of relaying that question to the people who follow you. As Covey taught, Seek First to Understand. Don’t assume other people view accountability the way you do and don’t assume the accountability tactics that work for you will work for others. Don’t assume you can read other people's minds. And, consider the impact of asking your followers if they think they are ‘naturally’ more inclined to be accountable than their business associates…or their close friends. Listen to their answers. Observe their body language as they speak.

To breed a culture of accountability…

Understand the ‘lay of the land’. Hold a short communication session, where ‘Accountability’ is the only topic. Learn what your people are thinking about accountability in your workplace. Learn what your people are thinking about your performance in the area of accountability. Depending on the state of communication [and stress] at your workplace, it may take a number of sessions to generate the open discussion that will ensure you have enough understanding of the ‘lay of the land’.

Listen and learn. At the risk of being too graphic – shut up, listen, and learn. When it comes to topics like Accountability, most people have minimal interest and minds resistant to advice [let alone lectures and mandates]. Now, if your followers visit your office regularly and ask you to help them be more accountable then please ignore those last 3 sentences…and do not read Part 2 of this thought post because you possess far more Accountability savvy than I.

Key Points:

If you want to really hold others accountable then make sure you lead by example.

If you want to really hold others accountable then make sure you know their views about the topic before expressing your views or forcing your views on them.

Recognize some people are naturally more inclined to be accountable* than others. So, your approach to helping people become more accountable must be designed to cover this fact of life.


* Some people possess strong natural ability in the areas of self-monitoring and self-regulating. For accountability, these people possess a natural advantage.

Link to Part 2

Link to Part 3






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