Leading, by default, creates accountability. Deadlines, projects, problems, meetings, and deliverables naturally create leadership accountability.
What about personal accountability?
I’ve never been held accountable for personal habits. Sure, I’ve been corrected many times, but I’ve never been in a proactive relationship where someone checked up on me. Have you?
Marshall Goldsmith has a personal coach and friend that holds him accountable. Every night Marshall’s personal coach calls him to ask a list of predetermined questions, things like; how many sit ups did you do, how much time did you spend watching TV, how much time did you spend on the Internet, and more.
Marshall designed his own questions. The coach’s job is to call and asked the questions, nothing more. There’s no advice or correction, just questions. The process is complete when Marshall turns around and asks his coach a series of predetermined questions. They do this every night. (From, “What Got you here, won’t get you there”)
Something in me says this is a very good thing.
On the other hand, something in me thinks this becomes boring and ineffective. Suppose one of your goals is 100 sit-ups a day and you never make it. What then? Why not just fudge it or forget it?
I’ve been thinking about personal accountability. The ideas below do not come from personal experience. I’m just thinking out loud.
Personal Accountability works when…
#1. You set your own goals and craft your own questions
#2. Your goals are achievable
#3. You respect the person asking your accountability questions
#4. The relationship is two-way. In other words you ask questions in return
#5. Personal goals and questions are modified with time
Personal Accountability doesn’t work when…
#1. Your goals are unrealistic
#2. Your goals aren’t measurable
I’m interested in developing personal accountability. I believe leaders reach higher with both professional and personal accountability.
Are you personally, accountable to someone? How is accountability expressed?
What suggestions do you have for someone exploring this topic?
Dan, I agree, it didn’t work effectively when I was doing business coaching. Pushing, bribing or otherwise cajoling clients setup a relationship that was not real, not personal and ultimately anti-helpful to my client.
When I started working with Job Seekers I used a different approach I call “Eat that marshmallow”. We talk about the things they really want to do that week. Then eliminate it down to the one most desired thing (not necessarily most important).
Then we identify 3 activities that are in their control they can do and want to do to achieve their one thing.
Finally, accountability. I ask them for a reward (treat) and a non-reward. Something that they have to do anyway but have been putting off (like deep cleaning their kitchen).
At the next session I ask only one question:
Did you give yourself the reward or non-reward? And then I let them tell me why or why not.
The odd thing I discovered: It’s harder to get people to give themselves the reward than the non-reward.
If I may make a plug: this worksheet and many others are available for free on my blog http://themiracleworker.wordpress.com (go to “downloads” and click on the picture of the guy with his arms raised in triumph).
Thanks for sharing your experiences both successful and not. Thats very valuable. Your comment suggests if we aren’t careful we get kind of “whacky” when we start setting personal goals and creating accountability. It’s not real. I love Goldsmiths questions, they are simple, measurable, and most importantly real world.
Your take on making weekly goals seems to be a good way to avoid the boredom of doing the same thing every week.
I notice there you mention, the next session, but don’t include more frequent contact. I assume this is because of the number of folks you dealt with.
Thank you for sharing your insights.
Best to you,
Alan is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. He regularly brings his experiences and insights to the table. His bio is at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/alan
Dan, you are right on! Goals must be personal by fitting into your masterplan of personal growth. Questions are a powerful tool, unlike any other growth-producing tool.
Lasting personal growth will not happen by reading a book, attending a conference, or seminar. Those are all great resources of information. It’s only in the daily journey where real lasting growth occurs. Having a personal accountability network/system is crucial to taking the resources and weaving them into the fabric of your journey.
Keep me informed on how it goes with your own personal accountability. I’m curious to see what develops.
Great seeing you again.
Your comment suggests that we need more than information, we need an implementation plan in order for change to occur. I think you are right on the money.
Best to you,
I had an accountability system in my first career, but a little different from what you describe above.
When I was in the military, my last decade was in the very senior grades. As I rose to those levels, it was common to hear about others already in those grades, and the comments were always the same–that person is a ROAD warrior–“Retired On Active Duty”. When will they retire so others can move up? They are air thiefs, just taking up space, holding up others from being promoted.
I asked two friends to be accountability partners, one who was one grade below me and one that was two grades below me, who operated in different circles than I did. I charged them with one mandate–if they EVER heard comments being made about me being a ROAD warrior, have the candor to come tell me so I could drop my retirement papers. They had a vested interest in doing that, since my departure opened up slots to allow for their upward mobility.
Fortunately for all concerned, my health took an downturn, and my career was curtailed earlier than I planned, allowing me to pass along my rank to them as they promoted up.
The accountability they provided turned into lasting friendships.
Thanks for the column.
Love the simplicity of your approach. I think any fool can make something complex. It takes real skill to hit on something simple yet effective.
Thank you for sharing your story and adding value.
Best to you,
With proper credit, I will be using your ‘air thieves’ reference Frank, thanks! Can see a number of variations on that.
It is funny the things that happen when you are a frequent Facebooker (who talks about fitness a lot). I was leaving church Sunday and one of my friends/fellow parishioners said, “Look at my tennis shoes, I am going to the gym right now, I promise!” It truly amazes me how our perceptions of the fact that it matters to someone else can be the impetus we need to follow through on our goals.
That is one reason why so many recreational and competitive athletes love sites like http://www.dailymile.com. We log in our miles/meters/units of activity and comment back and forth with each other. Although I keep a paper log for myself, it is important to me to log in to Dailymile b/c I know 100 people are “watching” to see if I check in.
And two last thoughts for someone exploring this topic: 1) the simple act of writing down what you are holding accountable to is critical to following through and 2) no matter how reliable your external sources are that you have asked to hold you accountable, being accountable to yourself and honest with yourself about how genuinely you have applied yourself to your goals is fundamental.
“It matters to someone else.” Wow, I think thats an important component of success. I know you aren’t suggesting it shouldn’t matter to ourselves but the idea that it matters to someone else seems empowering and motivating.
Love your suggestions and perspective.
Paula is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. YOu can see that she brings her real-life perspective to the discussion. Read her bio at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/paula-kiger
Accountability is a tricky situation because it implies someone is watching and that someone might be yourself. The word also suggests that there is something we must do rather than something we want to do. I believe a better way to phrase it would be self-empowerment. I grew up with too many things expected and not enough “self determination.” When we hold ourselves personally accountable are we not really just allowing ourselves to committ and undertake the objective? Accountability in theory fits more with the old management paradigm of command and control and holding people’s feet to the fire. The new equation suggests a different hierarchy where we rank order priorities and empower ourselves to be mindful of those “things that need our attention.” Mindfullness, Awareness, and empowerment propel me much more than the thought of accountability. Accountability robs me of my freedom, my need for diversity and my need for innovation and creativity. Yes there are obviously many societal and company “must do” stuff but one’s attitude can mutate the accountability notion to one of “want to do” provided no sacred boundaries are broached. I know you all might think this is all so polyannish but for me ATTITUDE dictates personal joy at work more so than skill sets or even values both of which at times may be influenced but attitude is 100% under your control, i.e. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (Can’t remember who said that right now) I read somewhere that it takes the same amount of eneryg to be miserable or be happy. Well let’s strive to be happy as we do all of the personal accountable things we hold ourselves empowered and free to do. Thanks, Al
Man I love how you bring another approach to this discussion.
I know you believe in skills development yet you suggest this powerful idea that its all about Attitude.
I’m letting your comment sink in for awhile. I’m going to read it a couple more times.
Thanks for thinking otherwise. I love it.
Dr. Diaz is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. You can see he brings useful insights to the discussion. Read his bio at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/al-diaz
Hi Dan thanks for the comment. Attitude can make you or break you. After all if you want to see a rainbow don’t we have to get some rain? thanks, Al ……. 🙂
I agree, Al.
When something doesn’t matter enough to self, one way to deal with that is to have it matter to someone else.
When you don’t care enough about yourself to be self accountable, being accountable to others is another path to keep you on track.
Thank you Tracy. I appreciate your thoughts and comments. Regards, Al
Eleanor Roosevelt was your quotee, Al. Great shift on being accountable or a clear attitude.
Thanks Doc for the input. Yes now that you mention her I do recall. She is one of my favorite ladies of all time. Regards, Al
Personal accountability is key to a person’s long term development. I do things goals have to be achievable/realistic yet not necessarily measurable. If we limit “progress” to any type of counting/measuring process, it can be demotivating. Some goals are measurable and some aren’t.
To be aware of progress on non-measurable goals, keep a simple journal or “insights gained”. Write in this every night before sleep. At the end of the week, review the simple text entries and see the “progress” you have made for non-measurable goals.
The progress you make from this approach delivers another dimension of growth that the counting/measuring doesn’t. One tip: Keep it simple — less than 300 words 🙂
If you remember the old television show, Doogie Houser MD, the character did this. It actually works in real life!
Thanks for your comment. Without measurement, I think you open accountable to things like attitudes, which Al brings to the mix.
I love how your comment is simple, actionable and in a way measurable. I can tell if I wrote in my journal every night or not. 🙂
YOu always bring value.
Kate is a featured blogger on Leadership Freak. She has her own blog at:http://katenasser.com/articles/
Twenty years ago I was a management consultant / project manager / trainer. During projects we ran regular weekly management training sessions. In part this was to create a common language, to reduce misunderstandings and help with the change process of whatever we were installing. The first session was always “The Role of the Supervisor”. One of the topics covered was Accountability. Over here in the UK there was nearly always confusion as to the difference between responsibility and accountability. Usually someone would say “you can get fired [canned] for accountabilities but not responsibilities” and they were often right. I used to say that the clue was in the word. A count abilities. You can count or measure them.
During projects we’d often be restructuring organisations. When this happened we’d need to draw up detailed job descriptions, which had to contain Functions, Responsibilities and Accountabilities. Some consultants needed to be reigned back to stop them assigning too many accountabilities. I’d give them the example that a sales rep should keep his or her company vehicle clean, rather than saying that the vehicle should be washed once a week. And not only did being specific mean that it could be technically wrong, it also meant that the sales rep was being treated as a child (I also often took hairy-arsed managers through transactional analysis and the parent/adult/child relationships, giving the industrial unrest and strikes of the 70’s and 80’s as examples).
One final thought is that, when assigning numbers you need to include a triangular balance (such as quantity, quality and timeliness) and beware of false ceilings. When I was a junior I was on a project where the sales guys had been set an annual target. One salesman came back from a meeting with a big grin on his face. He’d achieved his target for the year and it was only the end of February.
First, thanks for the call. It was great hearing your voice again and laughing a bit. And I thought Brits didn’t have a sense of humor! 🙂
One of big things I’m personally taking from your comment is your “triagular balance.”
I’m thankful you stopped in.
All the best,
Love the topic!
Lisa Haneberg (Management Craft blog) makes a great distinction between accountability and ownership.
Accountability, she says, is something that someone else does – my manager holds me accountable, I hold my team accountable, I hold my children accountable, etc. This often (but not always) occurs in a power relationship, and often involves extrinsic motivation (“I want to get it done because if I don’t, someone will be let down or punish me”).
On the other hand, OWNERSHIP is something that we take. For example: I take ownership for my health and fitness, so I choose to get up an hour earlier. I take ownership for my professional development so I choose to spend time learning. I take ownership for the results of my team, so I spend my time making sure the right things get done (instead of figuring out who to blame if things don’t go as planned).
Ownership often seems to spring from intrinsic motivation, and is typically connected to personal values.
What’s the point?
In my experience, the best way to get myself to make something happen is to choose to take ownership for it. It can be helpful to create some external accountability, but ultimately it’s my own sense of personal ownership that makes the difference.
I love how you break this topic down into ownership cp accountability.
You’ve added value to the conversation and for that I’m thankful. Man, I’m loving this whole thing we call blogging. This conversation is so valuable.
Thanks for sharing your insights.
Anyone who wants to know what it means to be personally accountable should read QBQ! The Question Behind the Question (Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life) by John G. Miller.
Even when someone else is holding you accountable — by checking in, or creating consequences for your actions — it is always up to you to do that something for which you are accountable. There is no other kind of accountability than personal accountability.
Great insight. You comment reflects some of what I was thinking. Accountability isn’t about making another responsible for me or shirking my own responsibility.
It’s been great seeing the diversity of comments and definitions contributors are making. Thanks for adding to the mix.
Interesting discussion Dan:
As I read through everyone’s comments about accountability it brings out the difference (at least to me) between leadership and managment. Basically, we lead people while we manage activities and things.
Professional accountabilty is a about of how effective we are in each role and our ability to measure and adjust what we do to get the best possible outcome for the organization. Personal accountability is the same thing except the focus is on self not organization. These two are conditionally linked since as a leader or as a manager, it is impossible to be professionally accountable if you do not hold yourself personally accountable.
How we measure and adjust is often situational. The commitment that we do so should not be.
Just my two cents. Thanks for the opportunity.
“These two are conditionally linked since as a leader or as a manager, it is impossible to be professionally accountable if you do not hold yourself personally accountable.”
Well said, Joan. Thanks.
Great comment. Love how you bring the topic down to the simple idea that we have to hold ourselves personally accountable.
I’m always thankful to see that you’ve stopped in to share your insights.
Meeting promise in time is the greatest form of personal accountability. Meet what you say and say what you mean. This makes your action complete and firm. When your actions are complete in meaning, they make you as a complete person. Being complete person creates trust and this trust by others makes you accountable. So, personal accountability is a process of being real, transparent and honest towards your promise, actions, behaviors and commitment. First, I am personally accountable towards my responsibility and secondly towards my actions, attitudes and decisions.
The suggestions for personal accountability is setting self example than expectation. I strongly believe that accountability leads to integrity. And integrity is the root to create trust, transparency and loyalty.
You bring the conversation down to brass tacks.
I’m glad you took time to share your perspective.
Ajay is from India. He regularly shares his thoughts and ideas. REad his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ajay-gupta
A former boss of mine has a severe form of ADHD and I used to be his assistant. He asked me to hold him accountable for his work-out routine, family commitments/follow-ups and other goals he set. It was a very draining experience for me.
I want to highlight point #4: The relationship is two-way. In other words you ask questions in return – I think that’s key!
Thanks for bringing a warning to the conversation. Great comment.
Best to you,
True accountability isn’t cheap. The stronger the accountability the more severe the consequences. Think about it. If I want to do situps I can call a buddy to check in on me. However, if I fail to do my allotted 100 I’m still safe because I don’t really jeapordize anything. He’s still my friend and life goes on.
However, if I promise my son to do 20 pushups with him everyday I now increased the strength of my accountability. Now There are consequences. If I’m good on my word then my son will respect me. If I don’t keep my word… Well you get the picture.
Lets ramp it… What about marital and sexual infidelity? I can tell a friend I’m “struggling” it really costs me nothing. Its safe! If I tell my wife (my TRUE life accountability partner) my struggles, my goals, my issues,, then I’m no longer safe and faced to deal with things in the light… Cocroaches live in the dark but as soon as you turn on the light they scurry. Could it be that is why Jesus told us to walk in the light???
Real accountability isn’t safe and costs us something. We need to have people in our life that will hold us to the flame when it comes to accountability. This motivates us to keep our commitments amd moves us toward real growth!
What’s the conclusion?
Love how you illustrate the escalation of accountability with consequences.
The point of this post is tame compared to your orientation to this topic. I’m glad you jumped in to add your thoughts.
Conclusion… Honestly, this part of my blog isn’t about my own conclusions. Although, I am planning on working with a coach and this creates a measure of self imposed accountability.
Even the action of *writing* your goals is a good step towards making them real.
Goals are not set in stone, if they are unrealistic, just adjust around them. People never stop to learn, why should you.
I couldn’t agree more. I committed to do my best to write 5 days a week the first year of blogging. Writing is tremendously clarifying.
Thanks for your comment.
The “QBQ! The Question Behind the Question” book sums it all up. Thanks to Heather for recommending the QBQ! book. We find so many organizations are confused over personal accountability and what it means. If someone in this comment trail wants a free QBQ! book, email me at John@QBQ.com. Happy to give away up to 6 hardcover copies of QBQ! Be well all! John G. Miller, author/speaker, Denver, CO, USA
I’m delighted you stopped in and generously shared your book with the LF community. I hope to learn from you on this and other topics.
Best to you and success with your writing and speaking.
YAGT…yet another great thread to read! Thanks all!
My first jaded impression was Marshall had too much free time or spending money, glad that works for him though. It is a case of whatever works.
Does demonstrating respect fit in here with accountability? Self respect, respect of others, respect of the organizations that pay us for our time and experience, respect of this short time we have on this earth?
Internal and external drivers keep me going. Want to live to see grand kids, want to have energy to things, tangible trackers work too. Had an excel spread with time, miles calories, etc., and always was fun to tally it up. Newest piece o’ exercise tracks all that and logs it for me otherwise might use Paula’s daily mile web reference.
Loved Joan’s interwoven point, all part of the same thread.
Things seem to get more and more out of control on LF! I’m glad to see you.
NOw you expand the conversation to include motivators like grandchildren…now thats a motivator.
I’m having too much fun… be well my friend.
Doc is a long time contributor on Leadership Freak. I’m glad you can almost always see him joining in.. his bio: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/doc
Accontability is key! Your post makes a great point – the right accountability is what is really important and that is a little different for everybody! Interested in “The Question Behind The Question”, which can lead to real and meaningful accountability!
Thanks for your note.. send your email to John. HOpefully you will get one of the six he gives away.
Agreed, making up the questions and achievable goals is one aspect to reach your goals. However, having a trusting relationship with someone who actually respects and desires you to reach your goals is the key. Returning the favor to push each other forward with encouragement, support, and accountability will build something no one can tear down.
Thanks for your comment. It seems that people are more important than goals in more than one area.
The discussion is interesting. Always remember: Personal accountability is all about ME. Not my spouse, my boss, the CEO of my firm, my neighbor, my pastor or priest, or my colleagues at work. IT’S ALL ABOUT ME. We do only accountability at QBQ, Inc. If you do want free content on this subject, join us here: http://qbq.com/quicknotes.php. No worries, no spam – just great stuff.
Great thread with some engaging responses. The timing is uncanny for me, since I just wrote a blog a few days ago about how we give away self-leadership.
I completely agree with John Miller (Hi John!), and my approach (for me) is pretty straightforward:
-I am always accountable for everything I think or do.
-The question is only whether I am consciously recognizing that, and using that awareness to inform my next choice of thought, attitude, action.
Everything everyone else does and measures may or may not prove valuable to them or me, but my awareness of my self-accountability is the MOST powerful piece of the the puzzle in MY life, regardless of what others are measuring or considering around me.
Best to all…
Dan, I love the post because it indicates the power of questions in our lives. They allow us to evaluate our behavior against our stated want(s). We see the gaps and that becomes our motivation. None of us change until what we want or where we want to be is different from our current behavior or where we are. The greater the gap the greater the motivation. I encounter all too often statements rather than questions. The power of change for individuals and organizations is in the questions, not the statements.
I don’t get tired of people saying nice things… thank you.
Love your idea of the gap as it connects to motivation.
I start this week with my coach. We are starting off slow and easy..Here are this weeks questions
Did you have a personal conversation with your wife?
What did you intentionally do just for fun?
How much time did you spend walking?
Did you spend time thinking about the future?
Best to you,
Dan, I really enjoyed your development of this topic. Keep up the good work.
hey Dan i am a leadership student in Uganda and i love doing alot of research. am glad i got this piece of information, it has been so helpful to me in personal accountability. keep on for more information
Hi Dan. This is a good read. To be personally accountable into something and the work of one’s team is a big responsibility. By the way, I love the illustration. Would you mind if I use that Accountability image?