How to Hold People Accountable with Compassion
Pushovers prolong helplessness, failure, and mediocrity. But accountability with compassion fuels boldness, growth, and productivity.
You demonstrate respect for people when you hold them accountable.
Accountability says behaviors matter. Who wants to live in a world where actions have no consequences?
Lack of compassion creates fear.
One commenter on Leadership Freak writes,
“I had a controversial conversation with an invested social worker yesterday. They were trying to fix a problem that a teenager got himself into.
He broke into the social worker’s facility. She wanted to drop the charges because she thought he had potential.
What lesson is he learning from being free of the charges?” (edited for content)
Accountability AND compassion:
Don’t shoot your wounded.
Choose accountability AND compassion, not accountability OR compassion. Accountability without compassion is detached, distant, and disheartening.
Accountability is about personal responsibility. But you can support people when they face negative consequences.
When someone screws up, stand with them, but don’t encourage irresponsibility.
Compassion is most relevant when people are down. Don’t compound failures by keeping your distance when people are paying the piper.
Get your hands dirty. Compassion takes time, energy, and patience.
If your goal is development, help people come out better on the other side of failure. Don’t stand aloof.
The language of accountability AND compassion:
- I know this is hard. I’m standing with you.
- I can’t make this go away. But I’ll help you get through it.
- I’m sorry we had to terminate you. Let me help you find a new job. (Depending on the reason for termination.)
- Yes, you’ve lost trust. Let’s find some ways to help you earn trust again.
Accountability isn’t cruel when you walk with people after they screw up.
A second chance has meaning when people take responsibility for their failures.
How might leaders practice accountability with compassion?
What are the limits of compassion?
“Assess your compassion” (HBR)
In a prior version of this post I used the term “compassionate accountability,” which in the context of personal development is a registered trademark of Next Element Consulting LLC, https://next-element.com/conflict-without-casualties/. I make no claim of ownership to that mark.