Holding People Accountable

Holding people accountable can be one of the most terrifying tasks for a leader. In our society, we tend to take responsibility for the feelings of others and wear their failures on our shoulders. Since holding people accountable involves the potential of hurting feelings, we tend to shy away from it and procrastinate. Ironically, holding people accountable leads to improved employee engagement resulting in higher levels of performance.

“Successful people do the things that failures dislike and refuse to do.”

A manager cannot manage – a leader cannot lead – without holding people accountable. FACT – It is our role to master this skill.

It’s always good practice to first ask yourself if you were clear with your expectations. This is foundational to building a culture where people are informed and don’t have to guess. When an employee doesn’t perform as expected, not holding them accountable can lead to a quick disintegration of your authority and respect in the eyes of your peers. At a deeper level, a culture you have worked hard to develop can begin to erode.

Here are a number of key points concerning holding people accountable:

  1. Employees will assume that their behavior is correct unless it is corrected.
  2. Holding people accountable is 90% communication and problem solving and 10% discipline.
  3. You will never feel comfortable holding people accountable! There will always be a point of hesitation right before you hold someone accountable when a voice inside you says, “Maybe I really don’t have to do this…” Your job as a leader is to forge ahead.

Our main fear in holding people accountable is that our interaction with the employee will be emotional. To get over this fear we must understand that there has to be emotion, or no change can take place.

When someone is not performing to expectations, they are either unconscious of what they are supposed to be doing – lack of clarity, or they are choosing not to perform as required. When we hold someone accountable we are simply bringing to the forefront the desired behavior and making it known that this is what is required. We are allowing them to become conscious of the requirements. They can now choose whether or not to comply.

As you do this more and more, it will get somewhat less painful, yet the uncomfortableness you feel will never totally go away. There tends to not be any gain without some pain….

So, right about now, you’re thinking – “Well this all sounds great but how do I do this? How do I cross this barrier of my own uncomfortableness?” The best way to hold someone accountable is to state the problem behavior that’s occurring and then say “Tell me about it”. From here you can both problem solve and bring clarity of expectations to the forefront. For example, taking a coaching approach versus a telling one might sound like this…

“Jane, I’ve noticed you have a number of calculations to contribute to our quarterly report that are outstanding. Tell me about it.”

“Jane, I was looking at your sales report and noticed your numbers are below forecast. Tell me about it.”

“Jane, earlier in the week we had a team meeting and all agreed on our next steps. I notice that you’re still doing things the old way. Tell me about it.”

Now be quiet and listen. What you are doing is going right to the core of the issue. You are taking the problem behavior and putting it on the person’s shoulders without saying they are to blame or that it is all their fault. You are simply stating what you have observed. By saying “Tell me about it”, you are opening the door to all possibilities. By approaching the problem with no assumptions, you won’t look bad if they do have a legitimate concern.  If further discussion or development is required, you now have a starting point.

In 90% of the cases just using the ‘tell me about it’ method will solve the behavior. You have brought it to a conscious level and there has been some emotion and accountability. The person now better understands what is required and you can work together towards solving the issue.

The thing that is so interesting about holding people accountable, is that 99% of the time you and the employee feel better after holding a person accountable. This is even true if the person refused to do what you needed him or her to do. At least now you know where the person stands and can begin formulating your next steps.

There must be some form of emotion present when we are addressing change. Nothing will happen without it. As leaders, you are the spark that raises this consciousness.

Circle of Life

Let’s connect for a more in depth conversation and discuss designing a lifestyle and leadership development plan that is unique for you and/or your team.

You may also like to Join our mailing list to receive our “Living – Learning – Loving” newsletter.  Each month, we’ll explore a new theme with a selection of additional resources featured.

Live inspired!

Email me

Engage – Empower – Energize

Engage, Empower, Energize


  1. Pingback: Inspirational Leadership | Lifestyle Leadership

Leave a Reply