The top 5 lies about accountability

Successful entreprneurs know accountability is key.Accountability. It’s often mentioned but rarely practiced.

When you’re held accountable for your actions, you are, according to, “subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable.”

Knowing you’re expected to report on your progress or accomplishments can be a great motivator, since, if you fail to produce, there’s significant embarrassment involved in admitting your non-performance. That’s why accountability is such a powerful business-building tool: When faced with doing an uncomfortable but important task OR admitting publicly that you chickened out, most people will choose the task.

Unfortunately, there are a number of misconceptions about accountability. In fact, they practically qualify as outright lies, and you risk your business success if you believe and act on any of them. Here they are and the corresponding truths about accountability.

You’ve probably encountered a Manager From Hell at some point in your life: someone who seemed to be just waiting for you to make a mistake so they could pounce on you and berate you for not effectively doing what you were supposed to do. That sort of behavior is indeed a form of punishment; it is not, however, a form of accountability.

With the proper attitude, both the person being held accountable and her accountability partner benefit. When you’re being held accountable, you have a powerful reason and support system for doing what’s necessary. When you’re acting as the partner and holding someone else accountable, you’re being of service to her and—if you’re her manager in a corporate setting—you’re helping yourself look good by helping your subordinate look good.

It’s easy to consider it more important to be held responsible for, say, meeting with a current client than for sending information requested by a prospect. After all, you’ve got to set priorities somehow, right?

You absolutely have to set priorities in order to survive, much less thrive, in business. The key here is to be accountable for activities you’ve identified as crucial to the health of your business and to ignore the non-crucial activities. If you’ve determined an activity or project deserves a place on your Crucial To Do list, then it’s totally appropriate for you to be held accountable for implementing it.

It’s true that annual performance appraisals are a form of accountability more common in corporations than elsewhere. However, to say that accountability only makes sense in a corporate setting is like saying that creating profitable outcomes only matters in a corporate setting: It’s just not true.

A corporate employee reasonably feels that she’s contributing to the overall success of the company. But if you’re the only person, or one of only a few people, contributing to your venture’s success, your contributions are proportionally much greater. This means it’s absolutely essential that you identify and implement your mission-critical activities—and have an accountability system in place to ensure that you do so.

Such statements make it easy to weasel out of doing the tough stuff, since you have failed to clearly define what that tough stuff is. It’s easy to claim that you’ve “worked on my social media marketing”, because that could mean something as ultimately unproductive as skimming the contributions of people you follow on Twitter without any idea of how you’ll interact with them or why.

Focus + implementation + accountability = exceptional outcomes.

Specificity creates traction and gets you going. When you commit to “read those three articles on what makes content go viral; create a check list of these important features; use the check list to ensure that the blog post I will write incorporates at least half of these features”, you know exactly what you’re going to do, why you’re doing it, and when you’ve accomplished it.

Let’s face it: It’s both tempting and easy to let yourself off the hook for doing something that’s not especially comfortable but which you know will produce the results you want. (If that weren’t true, Americans would be eating healthful meals, exercising regularly, and no longer enjoying the dubious distinction of living in a country that consistently ranks as one of the three most obese countries in the world.)

When serving as the accountability partner for my clients, I act with ruthless compassion. In other words, clients are challenged to do what they commit to, and they know they’re expected to share their results (or non-results), but they also know they’re never going to be berated if they don’t pull it off. Rather, we’ll go into problem-solving mode to ensure that they have more success and get better outcomes the next time they tackle the activity. In a formal accountability relationship like this, knowing that they’ve invested money in the consulting and accountability is yet another incentive to step up to the plate and do what they know is important for their future success.


So…Have you gotten sucked into believing any of these lies? Are you allowing them to degrade your performance and sabotage your outcomes? If so, you’ve got a lot of company…but is it the kind of company you really want?

Perhaps it’s time to take your performance up a notch by getting serious about being accountable for your results. I don’t know if I’m the right person to help with that, but I do know I’d be interested in finding out. How ‘bout you? Is it worth it for each of us to invest 30 minutes or so asking and answering questions to determine whether we’d kick serious business butt together? If so, email me and we’ll set up a call to explore that possibility.

BTW, thank you to United Workers for posting the accountability image in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.

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16 Responses to The top 5 lies about accountability

  1. Kelly says:

    I love “focus+ implementation+ accountability = exceptional outcomes”; it truly is the Trifecta of success! I definitely do better with accountability, because I can easily avoid those things that scare me the most by saying repeatedly “I’ll get to that tomorrow” …. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and breaking it down into reality for us!

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      So true, Kelly. Your comment reminds me of that old joke: “‘Tomorrow’ is always the busiest day of the week.” The only good thing about knowing what scares you most is that often times the level of fear is in direct proportion to the ultimate long-term value of doing the task. Yippee.

  2. Deb Prewitt says:

    I agree that being accountable to somebody else is vital. It is part of why I belong to a mastermind group. We hold each other accountable and it helps. A lot.

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      Yup, I think you just can’t underestimate the motivating value of confessing in public that you chickened out of a commitment! 🙂

      Deb, does your MasterMind group use a paid facilitator, or do all group members take equal responsibility for the sessions? I’m doing an informal survey about MM groups, so I’d really value some quick input from you. Thanks for whatever ideas you can share with the rest of us!

  3. Kandi says:

    I’m in HR, and a reoccurring theme of workplace issues is lack of accountability. Managers are not trained well on holding employees accountable. Business Owners don’t think about the value of an accountable workforce. Employees aren’t held accountable, and usually aren’t clearly told what’s expected of them. I wish I could share this post with every manager I know!!

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      Kandi, lack of accountability really is a genuine pain in the neck, isn’t it? I wonder if, in corporate settings, managers are overly concerned with being liked by their subordinates (or perhaps being sued by them). Too bad that more people don’t realize and act on the fact that stress and poor performance go way down when you know what you’re responsible for and what the consequences are for achieving/not achieving it.

      As for sharing the post with every manager you know, I’d be thrilled for you to do that. 😉 Don’t let me stop you from sharing tools that can help improve someone’s bottom line!

  4. I am so glad to see you included the ever-so-important piece that is often missing about not just checking to see if something is complete. Not checking off the box is not enough when it comes to my clients either. We use this as an opportunity to learn and explore what got in the way.

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      Bonnie, I’ve found that ignoring the problem-solving aspect of accountability just means the problem is likely to rear its ugly head again in the future. This is true whether I’m the accountability partner for a client or if I’m the one being held accountable by my MasterMind buddies.

  5. Tricia Pine says:

    I’m with Kelley. I loooove your formula. Having just come out of a year-long professional accountability situation, I can feel the slippery slope of letting things go. It is scary. Thankfully, I have support of my husband and family – but it is not their responsibility to hold me accountable to my business. I was actually playing with the idea of starting a accountability “meet-up” for creatives – as I know so many that are in the same situation as I am. Thank you for this clear and helpful article!

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      Tricia, I’m always delighted to provide a little goose toward an action that will propel you forward. Congrats on realizing that you’re not alone in navigating your slippery slope!

  6. Kathleen ~ I never thought about accountability as punishment. That’s an interesting thought. I always think of it as a way of really being able to share your insights, love and work with those you are contracted to work with!!!

    Also, when I work with an AB, it must be a divine match. Otherwise, it feels too much like WORK to get the thing done that you want to be accountable for and does not allow for flow in my business. When, it’s the right match, it does become easy to flow and let go if something that you said you would be accountable just does not happen for all the RIGHT reasons.

    Much food for thought in your post~ thanks for making me accountable to how I WANT and desire to be accountable 🙂

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      I agree, Laura, that accountability is not the same thing as punishment, but I’ve known people who act as if it is. Not a very productive attitude!

  7. Lilia Lee says:

    I am a great believer in accountability. And, I wish that there were more situations where I would be held accountable, particularly when I am trying to accomplish something creative.

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