Ep 146: Accountability
One of the values of a good leader, in order to gain trust and respect from their peers, is accountability. But what does accountability really mean, and how can we develop it? Find out in today’s episode, where your host Adam Quiney talks about accountability and developing it in your people. Learn what it means for someone to be held accountable and what your relationship should be with them. Find out what it means to be held accountable as a leader and its impact on your peers. Get ready to take note of the many golden nuggets, practices, and advice that Adam will share today.
Listen to the Episode Here:
Accountability: a common term yet essential for a company and leader. But really, what does it means for leaders, and how can it be developed? What does it mean if someone is held accountable? Let’s find out.
These are conversations in service of causing leadership. When we talk about causing leadership, what I mean by that is not you making someone else be a leader. It’s not necessarily you generating being a leader in someone else. Although hopefully, you will create that but rather causing in you the quality of being that we would relate to as a leader. That’s what we’re working on. If at any point you find yourself regurgitating, just speaking these concepts back almost like a parrot talking about it, that’s missing the mark. What we want to do is have you embodying these and actually taking on the practices. You’ve noticed that there are millions and millions of books giving you tips, tricks, things to do, what’s the right way to be a leader, how to show up, whether it’s to say and do and that’s just missing the mark of leadership and not what we’re about here.
We’re going to be talking about how to develop accountability in your people. I’m going to talk about our relationship to accountability, what we think of when we say I need to develop accountability and what we want to be doing, what accountability is, and then how do you practice that, how do you develop that quality in yourself and others. Before that, I’m going to put in a plug here for The Forge. It is the coaching and leadership training that is run by my wife and me. Both of us have a background in training coaches and leaders. I’ve done that work for about a decade now. The Forge is a nine-month program. It is deeply immersive and mostly virtual with a four-day retreat that is included as part of the cost.
We’re training three things. The first thing we’re training is you’re being. We’re training you to be a leader both in your own life and in whatever it is that you’re taking on in your life. The second thing they were training is the ability, the art, the skill of coaching. The reason we do that is essentially one-fold, which is that leaders coach. That is the way that we develop leadership in other people as opposed to haranguing, bullying, convincing, making people do stuff. All of that is missing the mark, missing the possibility of leadership. We train the ability to coach. If you’re someone who’s like, “I want to bring a coaching culture into my work.” We train that.
Three, we train your ability to enroll. How do we bring people along with us? How do we have people say yes to whatever we’re putting in front of them? How do we be okay with them saying no? How do we see that both of those are the same kind of win and serve people by moving them towards those two places? That’s all the art and skill of enrollment. That’s the third thing that we work on. The doors are open now for registration. If you’d like to know more, you can go EverGrowthCoaching.com/The-Forge. You can read more about it. We have ten spots available and we start in September, which may seem like it’s quite a way off, but that time is going to go quick and it fills up fast. If that’s something you’re interested in, either check out that website or send me an email at Adam@AdamQuiney.com.
Being Held Accountable
Part of what makes developing accountability challenging is the default relationship we have to it. When we think of being held accountable, I need someone to hold me accountable. Accountability is something that exists outside of myself. It is not a way of being that I generate from within. It is someone else doing something to or at me. There is fundamentally an at the effectiveness involved here. I’m at the effect of this other person. If they are not there to hold me accountable, I just won’t be accountable. That’s the starting point. We hold accountability as something externally created rather than internally generated.
When we think about being held accountable, what we think of is our parents nagging at us to clean our room, pick up after ourselves or do the chore that we don’t otherwise want to do. We think of it as someone hitting us in the head and making us do the thing. I remember someone who wanted to be a guest on this show had reached a degree of viral fame because he’d hired someone from Fiverr to slap him in the face every time he used Facebook, every time he loads onto social media, which is a cute gimmick. You can see like, “That’s great,” until you’d stop paying that person money. How long is that going to last? Is that going to imbue you to just never check into this stuff ever again? Probably not. I certainly won’t.
Finally, we hold this notion of being held accountable. We have it collapsed with being made wrong. If someone’s like, “Did you clean your room?” If the answer is “No”, then that means I’m wrong. I don’t want to elaborate further on wrong. I just want you to get that feeling of being wrong. What I’ve done is wrong. There was a right way for me to be and that was to clean up my room. From that experience of being made wrong, what do we do? We tend to avoid the person that we’ve asked to hold us accountable. It then becomes this weird cat and mouse game. From there, what people tend to think they need is what we’ve just described.
When it comes time to create accountability, people are like, “I need someone to hit me in the back of the head. I need to hire someone on Fiverr to slap me in the face enough times that I start doing the thing that I otherwise don’t want to be doing.” This is what they’re going to seek to enroll you in as a leader. If you haven’t done your own work, what are you going to seek to bring to them? You’re going to bring this to your direct reports and your direct reports are going to try to bring it from you. They’re going to get it out of you and you’re going to provide it to them. None of this is very empowering. None of this has people generate themselves as leaders. It has them generate themselves as dependent on someone else.
The last thing underneath all of this is that it provides zero reverence for why we might not be doing the thing that we say we want to do. What had that person continued to look at Facebook? Why were they doing that in the first place? Ostensibly, there’s something else they wanted to do? Rather than go and look deeper below the surface and say, “What has me avoiding that thing over there and spending my time on Facebook?” The answer instead is, “Don’t think about it. Just solve it.” We throw this layer of, “Just make me not do that thing over the top.” That completely bypasses any reverence we could be bringing to the way we’re showing up. If we don’t bring reverence to the way we’re showing up, we end up throwing a band-aid on top. When you throw a band-aid on top of a problem without getting present to it, it tends to become just the next iteration of the same pattern. The band-aid and the problem-solving become all part of the same cycle.
Let’s talk about building accountability. What does that mean? What are we doing? We’re going to talk about how accountability is built and how we support this and people. Before we even begin, we want to talk about what’s going to get driven up for you as you support people in becoming more accountable and as you support yourself in becoming more accountable. The first thing is our need to perform. What I mean by perform is not in a sense of a circus performer or a stage actor or a performance on stage. I mean performing like, “You need to get a good grade on this. You need to do this well.” That kind of performing. When people are like, “They’re a real performer. They’re showing up.” Overachiever would be another way to describe it.
Our natural need to perform is going to get driven up. Your direct reports’ trust and intimacy are going to get driven up. Part of this is going to require a willingness to trust your direct reports path and their own journey, and having space for them to show up as they do if you wish to develop their own accountability. Rather than do that, what tends to happen is someone doesn’t do what they say they’re going to do, that drives up my own need to perform as a leader. It drives up my unwillingness to trust them in their path and think that I know the path they should be walking, and then I impose this stuff on them, which treads all over their own work and path. We need to do our work to clear the way to stand with the client or the direct report or whatever we want to call them.
The 3 Different Ways Of Being With People
At this point, I want to talk about two different ways of being with people. We’ve got three and that is standing for someone versus the other two options. The other two options are attachment or resignation. Standing for someone and holding them accountable has three components. The first one is working yourself out and being responsible for your relationship to accountability and how they’re showing up. If your direct report says they’re going to do something and they don’t, and you’re like, “You fucking idiot.” You have that energy. Rather than just pretending it’s not there or try to stuff it down, you’re willing to own that and bring that to the person supporting you so you can move past it and work on it.
If we insist it’s not there, which tends to be door number one, “No, I don’t feel that way. I don’t have that at all.” Energetically, you’re communicating to this person, “Fuck you, stupid,” and they feel it. That’s door number one. Door number two is, “That’s there but I just set that down. I operate over the top of it. I don’t let that show up in the space.” It’s showing up in the space. To be responsible, we have to be like, “I’m mad at them and I’m holding them wrong. I’m going to bring this to my leader and say, ‘I’m holding my person wrong. Can I get some support to move past that?’” We got to be responsible for our own relationship to accountability and how people are showing up.
It also means that if I hold that accountability means someone makes me do the thing and punishes me when I don’t, I have to be responsible for that being in the space when I go to support this person because what we’re going to try to support you in creating here is at odds with that. You have to honor what’s showing up rather than pretend it’s not there so that you can do the work on it. By the way, that gets in most people’s way right out of the gate. They’ve got that like, “The right way for me to show up with someone is that I don’t have any stuff on them. I don’t have fucking stupid in my space.” From this idea that there’s a right way, they show up and immediately push fuck you stupid into their blind spot. We could save so much time if they’re just like, “Yes, I hate this person. They’re a dummy.” Now we can work on that. Instead, we have to pull it out of the blind spot, have them own up to it. We then can start to do the work on it.
One, working yourself out of being responsible. Two, reflecting how someone is showing up. Three, supporting them to honor the consequences of their actions, free of making them wrong. I’ll talk more about that too. Each of these three parts is challenging and one leads into the other. I’m going to talk about attachment and resignation now, then we’ll come back to standing and how it’s different. Attachment, the way that would look is when someone tells me they’re going to do something and they don’t do it. I get bent out of shape. I’m like, “They are going to do it.” The next time they tell me that they’re going to do something I like, I’m like, “Show me it in your calendar. I want you to call me every 30 minutes and give me a progress update.” I’m attached to it happening. I’m getting up in their business. Micromanagement is typically a function of attachment. I’m attached to the result happening. I have no capacity to stand for a breakthrough. I have no ability to trust your path. I’m attached. I might as well be doing the work myself.
The other option is resignation. Resignation is common when people say things like, “The way I relate to leadership is I never make anyone do anything like I don’t force them to do anything. It’s up to them.” They’re totally resigned. They’re not standing for this person to create any breakthrough. They’re not standing for them to do anything different. You can come to me and say, “Adam, I’ve never been more than committed to anything in my life. I’m going to do this.” You come back next week and I’m like, “Did you do it?” They say “No.” I said, “What do we do now?” There’s no stand. There are no teeth to it. You can tell me that you’re going to do this thing, but I might as well be a lamp post. Tell that lamp post. A lamp post isn’t going to do anything either. We’re resigned or we’re attached. We’re attached and we’re forcing you to make it happen or we’re resigned and we’re giving up on you having it happen. Neither of these two extremes will support us to create any breakthrough and accountability with our people, which is what we’re here to do as a leader.
Now, we’ve got those three parts and we’re standing for someone. The three parts are working yourself out, reflecting how someone is showing up, and supporting them to honor the consequences of their choices, free of making them wrong. The importance of working ourselves out is that it allows us to avoid the make wrong. We often hold people to consequences from a place of making wrong or from fuck you stupid. Maybe you deliver a report late and I’m like, “It’s too late.” Your word can’t get in there. Even if that’s all I say, energetically, how I’m being about it is, “You fucked up. It’s your fault that your report is not there.” I’m not clean on my energy. On some level, I’m transmitting this, “You screwed up. You’re wrong. You made a mistake.”
A lot of people believe that they can operate over the top of this, which is a real false and toxic belief. It means that we just keep operating in it because we’re unwilling to confront it because we’re dead insistent that it doesn’t have an impact. That keeps you stuck there. From make wrong, it’s almost impossible to cleanly hold consequences for people. Instead, we hold the consequences but we use them like a bat. We hit you with them. People aren’t given much power to honor the consequences of their actions. Instead, what they’re doing is honoring them to avoid your wrath and the uncomfortable feeling of your make wrong that’s in the space.
Rather than support them to develop accountability to themselves, we develop them as accountable to us and to our anger. What this does is creates more followers rather than leaders. The way that works is that they will do this as long as the threat of my anger or my make wrong is sufficient to have them do it. As long as the threat of that and the discomfort that will cause is greater than the discomfort of doing the thing they might have some resistance to or be afraid of or be confronted by, they’ll do it. Once you remove me as a leader from the picture, they no longer have that bat to hit them in the back of the head so they go back to the old way being very quickly. This is often what’s going on when leaders are complaining like, “When I show up in the office, people do stuff but then when I leave, they all stop.” That’s how you’ve trained them. That’s what you’ve created.
A powerful leader, regardless of where they are in a hierarchy, is able to honor and acknowledge the consequences of their actions. This is what has their word meaningful and allows them to be responsible for their impact. Honoring consequences means that I’m clear and upfront about the consequences of your choices. I support you to do whatever is necessary lovingly to clean up. Let’s imagine we have someone showing up late and we want to walk through these three things. The first thing is people show up late. I’m like, “I got to think about time. I can own that over here. I’m very committed to punctuality. I don’t like it when people are late.” There is a definite like, “How dare you to waste my time.” That can show up for me. We’re going to bring that to my coach. I got to do my homework first.
Let’s assume I’ve done that. Now, this person shows up late. The first thing I might do is say, “I noticed you’re late. I’d like you to change that. Will you take that on?” They’re like, “Totally.” I’m reflecting it to them without making them wrong for it. I’ve done my work. I can just be like, “You’re showing up late,” free of it being like, “You’re showing up late and you’re stupid for it. You’re showing up late and how dare you waste my time.” I’m simply stating a fact like if I told you, “That bread is sourdough,” “You’re showing up late. I noticed you’re showing up late.”
If it persists, maybe I create an agreement with them that if they’re late again, there will be docked pay. “If you show up another hour late, we’re going to remove $15 from your paycheck.” I want to co-create it with them, ideally. Sometimes you don’t have that choice. You have to be like, “I can’t pay you when you’re not here. When you show up late, we’re going to dock your pay. Are we clear? I’m not doing that to make you wrong or to punish you. That’s the consequence of not being here on time.” Ideally, we co-create it. We enroll them in that practice.
If it’s a little more nebulous, maybe not as clear as money, “I noticed when you show up late, this is happening in the meetings. If there’s a consequence, would you be willing to empower?” “If I show up late, I miss my lunch break and I work through it.” “Are you empowered by that?” “Yes.” That’s us creating the consequence with them. Often, you won’t have to create something. There’s already a clear consequence. If they show up late again, in this example, we dock their money not because they’re wrong, but because we’re clear that it serves them to have these consequences made real. We’re not doing it to punish them. We’re doing it because every choice has a consequence. Until someone is willing to stand for that consequence, I don’t have to be with it.
This is like when parents tell their kids, “Don’t do that or this is going to happen,” and then the parents don’t follow through. What did the children learn? They learn that their parent’s word doesn’t have any teeth. They learned that their actions don’t have consequences, “I can just do it. They said that’s going to happen. It’s not going to work.” We’re not held to any consequences. Consequently, there’s no accountability for me. I don’t have to be accountable for anything because there’s no impact on my actions. I can do whatever I want.” Leaders who are unwilling to hold someone to the consequences end up having no teeth behind their stand. Their stand becomes flimsy, unreliable and ultimately irrelevant.
As you stand for people this way, you’re going to notice a couple of things. First, you’re going to notice both your resistance to doing so because you’re like, “I don’t want to be a bad guy.” You’re not. You were standing for this person to create a breakthrough in terms of their accountability, or you’re going to notice their resistance, “Why do you get to do that? I don’t have to do anything.” “I’m doing this because you and I made an agreement and you didn’t follow through with the agreement. If I don’t, then what’s the point of us making an agreement?” We have to honor our word. That’s the only way we become accountable.
Standing Up For People
You may also notice yourself having some stand fatigue. What it is when you are standing for someone this way and they fight with you on it. You might sit down with them and be like, “I’d love to support you in creating a breakthrough in your accountability. What I’m clear on that is I’m going to have to hold you to the consequences of your choices and your actions. That means if you’re late, I’m going to have to dock your pay. I’m not doing that because I relish doing it. I’m doing it because I think you want to be someone who shows up on time. Right now, there are just no teeth to that. There’s no consequence to it. Not punishment. Nothing happens. Are you willing to partner with me on that? Do you want to become someone who’s accountable for their time?” “I do.”
You enroll them in that. They show up late and then they fight you with it, “It’s different this time because this happened and the police officer stopped me.” “I got it. There’s still a consequence. How could you have done this differently so that this police officer stopping you didn’t have to be the thing?” “I couldn’t have even known.” “Could you have left twenty minutes earlier?” “Maybe, but how was I to know? I don’t know.” “If you’re committed to being here on time, maybe that’s what you have to do.” As you stand for some of this, they are going to fight with you. That’s not because they’re uncoachable, wrong, a jerk or anything like that. It’s because that’s human nature. We ask people to stand for us and then we fight them every step of the way to the breakthrough.
You’re also going to notice that there’s a predictability to what will happen. Your client’s going to fight you. You’re going to want to go towards either attachment or resignation. It requires a lot of your own work. Most coaches and leaders that I work with find me after they’ve worked with someone else who did not have much capacity in this area. Those coaches and leaders find themselves often burnt out. They’re like, “I don’t understand it but I’m finding myself hating people. I’m getting annoyed with my staff. I’m getting frustrated with them. I do not see many possibilities. I want to fire them all and let all my clients go.”
That’s because those people haven’t developed the muscle or the capacity to stand for someone. The reason they haven’t done that is they haven’t had it modeled for them. Very few coaches and leaders are doing this kind of work. Not out of like malice or laziness, but simply because it takes something beyond our natural humanity. It takes someone standing for you before you can stand for someone else. It’s easier to just assume we can do that work on our own rather than make the scary investment and be in the discomfort of being stood for.
In this, there’s the possibility of quitting. This is so important when you’re standing for people. As they learn to be accountable for themselves, meaning they accept that there are consequences to their actions and they allow those consequences to be there so they can keep making choices, they might reach the point where they’re like, “Screw this. I didn’t sign up for this. If I keep coming into work late and you keep docking my pay, the first thing I’m going to do is blame you for that. You’re just doing it because you’re mad at me.” “No, I’m doing it because we agreed to something.” They’re going to fight you on it. They might get to the point where they’re going to notice things aren’t changing but they’re worse than they were before. The reason is because now they got someone standing for them to be with the consequences of their actions.
It’s like if we all collectively agreed to pay for the environmental impact of all the clothes we buy, at first, we’re going to keep buying the same amount of clothes. We’re going to notice everything costs more. What happens at that point is rather than change our behavior and buy fewer clothes and reuse stuff and demand higher quality, so we don’t have to keep replacing it. We go, “This is a terrible idea. I don’t like that I’m paying these extra costs for my clothing. Reduce the taxes. Take that away.” We try to change the thing that’s forcing us to get present to the consequences of our actions, rather than changed our behavior so we can have a new way of showing up in our life as a leader. Be open to that quitting. As you do this work, people are going to fumble around. They’re going to get annoying. That’s how you know you’re practicing leadership.
Lastly, the most important thing in all of this before we get to practices is bringing love to the client. We have to be willing to trust the client. We have to be willing to trust that if I hold the client to the consequences of their actions, if I enroll them in partnership with that, and if I can work myself out so I’m not bringing consequences like a stick to hit them with, but rather just something for them to get present to a way of them seeing their impact. I also have to trust that from there, they will find their way. It won’t be clean. It won’t be as fast or on my terms as I want it to be. It will start to allow my client to discover their own path and how to be accountable to themselves rather than having them be accountable to me.
If you can develop staff that can be accountable to themselves, that means that you’ve developed a leader because you no longer need to manage that aspect of them. They show up and they tell you, “I said I was going to do this and I didn’t. I want to clean it up and here’s what I’m going to do next.” That starts to become the quality of being that gets modeled in the culture of your organization. That will create drastically different results than most of the rest of the approaches that are being used.
Let’s talk about practices and then we’re going to wind down. First, notice where you resign yourself or get attached to people doing something. Which of those two is your bias? Which one do you lean towards? I tend to be an attacher. We tend to waffle back and forth between both of these. Notice where either of those is showing up for you. Consider that these are typically the opportunities or places for your own work. We get attached to resigned because we don’t have the capacity and space to be with ourselves when we’re showing up this way. We don’t have the space to be with the heartbreak of people promising us something and then not delivering. Heartbreak exists between what is and our expectations.
Every time someone says, “I’m going to be here at 9:00,” and they show up at 9:30, there’s a 30-minute gap of heartbreak. My expectation is you’re going to be here at 9:00, you showed up at 9:30, that’s what it is. The next time you tell me that you’re going to be there at 9:00, I don’t trust you. I haven’t developed the capacity to be with the heartbreak of this happening again. I text you 30 minutes before, and then I text you 15 minutes before, and then I text you five minutes before to make sure you know to meet me or I just give up. If I never invest myself, if I never take you at your word ever again, you can’t break my heart. These are phenomenal places to bring to your coach. This is where your work lies. We do a lot of work in this area in The Forge. That’s where we support leaders and coaches that want to deepen their capacity to be with the accountability of their own life and that of others.
Secondly, notice your relationship to integrity. How is it going reporting what you are and are not doing in your life? If you have a check-in form or a place in your life where you’re doing stuff, do you report on it? Do you share? “This is what I said I was going to do. This is what I didn’t do out of what I said I was going to do.” Consider that in itself is accountability. If all you ever did was show up day in and day out and came to terms with what you promised and what you didn’t deliver on, that’s going to force you to take a look at the reality of what’s going on. That has you come closer to the truth. The closer we allow ourselves to come to the truth, the more opportunity there is for a shift.
Remember, none of this is about making you do something. This is about supporting people to overcome their resistance to creating the life they desire. To do that, we start by supporting them to be accountable to themselves. I’ll end with this context for accountability. Accountability is not making someone do something. It is supporting them to account for their word and their actions. Just like an accountant looks at a bank and she doesn’t say, “You’re wrong for this. You should’ve done that differently. Holy crap.” What they do is they say, “This is the assets and these are the liabilities.” When we account for ourselves, we say, “This is what I said I was going to do. This is what I didn’t do. This is what I did do.” It’s that simple. That’s everything that we’ve got for you. In the next episode, we’re going to talk about right action and right being and how leadership requires both of those parts to be transformative. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Bye for now.
About Adam Quiney
I’m an obsessive perfectionist, high-performer, former lawyer, and now an Executive Mentor. I know what it’s like to succeed easily and quickly. To blindly put my happiness in the hands of achievement.
All the success, money and possessions in the world couldn’t cure my boredom. Couldn’t produce a loving, intimate relationship with my wife…and definitely couldn’t fulfill me.