How to Hold People Accountable when You’d Rather Eat a Worm

12 reasons holding people accountable is distasteful:

  1. You naturally pick up the slack when someone falls behind.
  2. You aren’t accountable to your own responsibilities. (Like holding people accountable.)
  3. It’s hard to begin something you haven’t been doing.
  4. Being liked is better than feeling disliked.
  5. The thought of an argument gives you sweaty hands.
  6. You hate hurting people’s feelings.
  7. Responsibilities weren’t clear to begin with.
  8. Letting people off the hook is easier than watching them squirm.
  9. Excuse-making is an acceptable practice on your team.
  10. You aren’t sure when to give second chances.
  11. Responsibility to hold people accountable doesn’t come with authority to bring consequences.
  12. Worst-case-thinking dominates your approach. “I’ll just have to terminate them.”


If you’d like to begin holding people accountable…

#1. Think of accountability as partnership.

“We’re holding each other accountable.”

Discuss and clarify shared and individual responsibilities.

  1. What are we responsible for…?
  2. What am I responsible for…?
  3. What are you responsible for…?

 Describe responsibilities in behavioral terms, not simply end results.

#2. Adopt life-giving accountability behaviors and practices.

  1. Ask, “What can I do to support your success?” before projects begin.
  2. Be sure that goal setting is done in partnership.
  3. Define how behaviors impact results.
  4. Assume responsibility for the success of your team.
  5. Convince everyone that you’re committed to their success.

#3. Approach accountability as a process, not an event at the end of a project.

  1. Have regular one-on-ones.
  2. Set milestones. What do you need to get done today or this week? Annual goals are meaningless until December.
  3. Include others. Accountability can’t be a secret.

When many people contribute to success, all of them are accountable for success.

#4. Hold people accountable for their growth and development.

#5. Confess that you aren’t good at holding people accountable and discuss how to practice it with your team.

What tips do you have for strengthening a leader’s accountability muscle?