Don't Hold People Accountable

Nobody wants to be held accountable. It’s embarrassing. It makes us feel defensive. Our first and eminently human response is to look for an excuse, to blame something or someone to squirm out of the moment.

What we want — what we mean when we utter those words, “please hold me accountable” — is something far more personal and powerful.

We want the space to choose. It’s as ironic as it is counterintuitive: It turns out that to create a culture of accountability, you have to make it optional.

This doesn’t mean you should lower your standards. It means you should raise them.

But it also means you have to get better at articulating, with transparency and vulnerability what those standards are.

You have to build the self-confidence to give people feedback on the day you see something, rather than giving into your fear of not being liked and holding it back for a one-on-one or an annual review.

You have to learn to stretch your imagination and start to see setting boundaries as the most important tactic you have as a leader — not to punish people but to turn them back to themselves — so they can choose to do the work it takes to change the things that matter.

Accountability will remain forever out of reach for as long as you try to impose it on your reports. As counterintuitive as it may sound, your job as a leader in the new world is to stop holding people accountable, and instead to focus your energy on creating the conditions where people do that for themselves.

Let’s go one layer deeper to bring it home: It’s not actually accountability you want: it’s self-accountability, the really good stuff, the best version of self that only ever emerges when one human being decides, for themselves, to do it differently today than they did it yesterday.

Talk to your team about what you need from them. Take them aside to let them know when they fall short, and especially when you do. Let them know when they need to dig in even deeper.

Becoming the leader your team is waiting for is a lifelong project.

Hold yourself accountable to the journey.

Jonathan Raymond