A New Perspective on Accountability

Susan M. Barber
4 min readMar 3, 2020


Holding other people accountable can be a challenge for leaders. The leader makes an assumption that their direct reports are just like them. No one has to hold me accountable, so why do I have to hold other people accountable? Why don’t they just do the work that they have to do?

Holding others accountable seems to be viewed as a negative. What if you flip it around and look at it differently? Your role as a leader is there to support your team, develop them, and motivate them to get results. Holding them accountable is connected to all three of those things. They may have questions that you could answer, need guidance on the direction they are going in, or help from you to remove an obstacle for them.

Accountability isn’t checking up on them or micro-managing, it is checking in.

People with high levels of experience will need less direction from you and those with low levels of experience will need more of your time. As you delegate responsibilities to your team, think about how much of your time will be needed to help them develop their skills. You are accountable for what they deliver. Their failure is your failure and their success is your success.

Why You Have to Hold People Accountable

I have clients who ask me all the time, “Why don’t people just do what they are supposed to do?” It is a simple question that, unfortunately, doesn’t have a simple answer. Not everyone thinks the same way you do about getting work done and there could be other issues that need to be uncovered. Here are a few examples of what could be happening.

The easiest way to think about it is that every person comes to work each day with a whole lot of baggage. Their baggage may contain thoughts about things that happened in their past, personal issues that happened that day, or things they are worried about happening in the future. All of those thoughts get in the way of just getting work done sometimes.

The person may also be afraid to ask for help or be insecure about what they are doing. They are trying to find out the answers on their own instead of just asking for help. They don’t know what to do and you are trying to hold them accountable to deliver what they promised. This is where conflict shows up.

What can you unpack in the conversation that will help them? Are they looking at things from a past perspective or worrying about things that may not happen? Can you help them see that it is a positive thing to ask for help? Show them by example that you have struggled with this in the past and now you see it as a strength, not a weakness.

Leaders sometimes have to play detective to uncover what is really going on. The sooner you figure the person out, the easier it will be to motivate them. Building awareness for people can be the best thing to help them see that they can do more. It may take some time for them to shift behavior, but your outcome may be that you don’t have to hold them accountable at all. They could become self-motivated and do what is necessary to get the job done without you being so involved. That is a win-win for both of you!

Clearing Up Expectations

Are expectations causing confusion when you want to create a culture focused on accountability? Think about the expectations that you may have of one of your team members. You may be making assumptions about the things that you are asking the person to do for you. They are making their own assumptions from the conversation and you are both heading down the path of frustration.

Brene Brown talks about this concept in her book, Dare to Lead. She calls it “Paint Done.” This phrase is a metaphor for delegating a task to someone much like painting a picture. What determines that it is done? This approach allows both sides to share information and ask questions to understand what the final result will look like when it is done. Some example questions would include: when is it needed, what needs to be included, how should it look, why is it important, etc. Brene created this phrase out of frustration with her own team members and it has helped them all considerably.

How can you implement something similar the next time you are delegating to a team member to help hold you both accountable to each other and eliminate frustration?

Accountability is a two-way street for leaders and their staff. You must also remember to hold yourself accountable so that you can best support those working with and for you. It is all about checking in with each other and creating a work culture built around support and open communication.

Susan M Barber, President of Susan M Barber Coaching & Consulting, LLC, works with individuals, teams, and organizations to build skills that leaders need to attain breakthrough results. Her passion for coaching and leadership development is driven by seeing the transformation of leaders as they reach far beyond their own ideas of success. She continues to drive custom programs for groups that want to make changes in their careers to become more powerful leaders.



Susan M. Barber

Coaching leaders on authentic ways to show their value & create visibility for their personal brand | Leadership Coach & Consultant| http://susanmbarber.com/