Tag Archive for vulnerability

6 Things the Best Leaders Know About Accountability

Mad fight of business people


If there are two words in the leadership and management arena that are more misunderstood and abused than accountability and coaching, I’d be interested in hearing them.

Coaching and accountability. Accountability and coaching. Like peas and carrots. Or maybe more like liver and onions. Heck, it may conjure sensations more akin to a colonoscopy, depending just how bad your experiences have been.

Coaching can go both ways, right? Sometimes it has a positive vibe to it, while other times, like when it’s framed as a “coaching session,” it can have a slightly more ominous tone. Like a punch to the soul perhaps.

Accountability, no matter how much we try to reframe it into something positive (which rightly understood, it is), still has a decidedly negative connotation for most of us.

The reason it’s like that is because most of us have experienced things that led us to attach negative emotions to those words. That’s kind of how our minds work. If we have a negative attitude about something, it’s because we have negative beliefs about that thing. And if we have negative beliefs about that thing, it’s usually because we’ve had experiences that have led to those beliefs. Make sense?

So our attitudes and beliefs about coaching and accountability have been shaped by experiences we’ve had with coaching and accountability. Many, though probably not all, of those experiences have likely been negative.

But here’s the thing — it doesn’t have to be this way. It really doesn’t.

Coaching and accountability are two very powerful tools that can and should have a decidedly positive impact on teams and organizations, but they can only do that if they’re conceptualized and practiced appropriately.

Here’s what the best leaders know about coaching and accountability:

1. Accountability is a shared thing between two or more people.

It’s not a one-way thing. The dynamic accompanying accountability changes dramatically if accountability goes both ways. The problem, of course, is that usually that’s not how it’s orchestrated. Typically, the one with the most positional power calls the “subordinate” into his/her larger, more luxurious office, where he/she then — and this is the phrase — “holds the ‘subordinate’ accountable.” That conversation is generally pretty one-sided, save for perhaps a couple patronizing questions.

That, my friends, is not accountability. That’s an assertion of power. A scolding. A corrective conversation. But it’s not what accountability should look like.

Accountability should be a shared thing. It’s two or more people holding each other accountable to agreed upon and committed to group goals and expectations. As it relates to a team, it’s the entire team, including the leader, holding each other accountable.

2. Coaching and accountability aren’t meant to be instruments of power.

Related to the above, coaching and accountability shouldn’t be thought of and/or used as instruments of power and control. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I understand the necessity of formal, corrective, disciplinary action from an HR perspective; but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Too often, coaching and accountability are used as tools to assert dominance and/or control over “subordinates.” (Oh, how I hate that word.) Think about it. We (organizations) make people — human beings — walk into their bosses’ offices, heads down in shame, sit down, listen to their bosses’ monologues about all the ways they’ve messed up, nod in feigned agreement with their bosses, and then get up and go back to work. Oh, and “go team” and all that jazz. Hashtag sarcasm.

3. Coaching and accountability conversations should be conceptualized as opportunities to serve a teammate.

What if we wiped our mental whiteboards clean and started from the perspective that coaching and accountability were primarily about serving our teammates? What if that was the primary end? I bet those conversations would look and feel a whole lot different. And I bet they’d produce better and more sustainable results too. (In fact, I know from experience they do.)

4. Coaching and accountability conversations should be truly collaborative.

As I alluded to above, coaching and accountability ought to be collaborative. A coaching conversation, for example, ought not be a monologue given by the one with the most positional power. Rather, the conversation should feel more like…well…a conversation. If we truly view accountability as a shared thing, the conversation should feel shared too. It then becomes more of a dialogue between two teammates about what went wrong, what each of them thinks, what each of them could have done differently, and what each of them commits to do going forward. You see, that’s shared accountability. That’s mutual ownership. It’s collaborative and team-oriented.

5. Coaching and accountability should be primarily a team thing, not something owned exclusively by the manager.

I’ve said it elsewhere — and I go into it in much greater depth in one of the talks I give — but I don’t even see accountability on a team as being primarily or exclusively a manager’s responsibility. Now, it’s the leader’s responsibility to set the tone of vulnerability and create the context for this sort of group accountability, but then I think that the team itself can and should serve as the primary and first line of accountability for itself.

I think that rightly understood, a team that has learned to be vulnerable together and has committed together to living out a group of values and performing to certain standards — that team can and should hold each other accountable to live those values and perform to those standards. And when one or more of them fails to do so — which is obviously going to happen from time to time, since teams are full of flawed, imperfect, humans — one or more of the others should and likely will (if that vulnerability and trust has been established) come alongside their struggling teammates and help them get back on track so that not only can those teammates get back to performing to the level they all committed to, but then also can the team, together, perform at an optimum level, focused on team outcomes.

6. No leader/manager/boss/executive/CEO should be above accountability.

This a big one. Some leaders act like they’re above their teams. They behave as if no one has a right to call them out on their toxic behaviors and attitudes. Watch out for those leaders. It’s almost a certainty that those leaders are cultivating an unhealthy environment on their teams, and likely, by extension, the organization. And at some point you have to ask yourself, Why will those leaders often go to such great lengths — sometimes even including lying, deception, or any number of things — to avoid any real accountability for their actions and behaviors?

The best leaders humbly and eagerly embrace group accountability and look forward to learning and growing from it. Rather than avoiding it or bristling at it, they invite it.

So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is that coaching and accountability should be thought of differently. The foundational principle to keep in mind is that accountability, rightly understood, is a shared thing among a group of people, including the leader. If a leader and team can embrace that sort of accountability, it can dramatically transform and improve the team’s dynamic and performance.


9 #Leadership Actions That Build Trust



Building trust seems so cliche, which is unfortunate, because its importance simply cannot be overstated. Real trust is critical to a healthy team and organization, and any team or organization without it will find itself rotting away from the inside out.

Be Human

This one is foundational for many of the others. Leaders have to be human, and what I mean by that is that leaders have to be vulnerable and flawed with their teams. Instead of hiding faults and mistakes, leaders should own them, admit them, and apologize for them when appropriate. They should be quick to ask for and offer help. This cultivates trust on a team, and establishes this level of openness as a team norm. Soon, following their leader’s example, a team begins to be human as well, embracing their mutual humanness and vulnerability. This allows them to serve each other, help each other, engage in healthy conflict together, commit to each other, hold each other accountable, and much, much more. But leaders being human with their teams is the first step.

Be Humble

This goes hand in hand with being human, but being humble is huge. Now, there’s no human that’s humble all the time. We all have an ego, and it’s a constant struggle to keep that thing in check. But as leaders, we have to fight ego and work toward humility. It’s humility that will allow us to be open and human with our teams. It’s only humility that enables us to have any sort of self-awareness. Show me a boss without self-awareness and I’ll almost guarantee you that boss is about as arrogant as they come.

Ask Questions

Asking questions — and I’m not just talking about work-related questions — is important for so many reasons. It helps you get to know your team. It helps you better understand how and what they’re thinking. It lets them know you’re interested in them not only as professionals, but also as people. Asking questions continues to open the communication between you and your team, and the more you and the team communicate, the stronger that relationship has a chance to become.


Related to the above, of course, is listening. When people feel listened to — really, truly listened to — it matters. By the same token — and I can’t emphasize this enough — when people feel like a boss is going through the motions of “listening” to them, but isn’t really listening, it’s destructive. It’s so harmful, in fact, that I’d suggest not even faking it. If you’re not really going to listen, and if you’ve already made up your mind about something, don’t even bother.

Embrace Serving

People can tell when you’re in it for them. People can also tell when you’re primarily in it for yourself. The former builds trust. The latter destroys it. Servant leaders see leadership as a vehicle to serve others.

Be Honest

I wish this one went without saying, but like many of you, I’ve seen too much evidence to the contrary. Dishonest leaders destroy trust. They tear teams and organizations to shreds.

Give Away Power

Leaders who give away power instead of hoarding it inspire trust on their teams. Team members feel trusted when they’re empowered, and as a result, are far more likely to trust. Bosses who hoard power send the message that the only people they trust are themselves.


Somewhat akin to the previous point, hoarding information promotes distrust. Sharing information with your team and engaging in open and candid dialogue with them shows you trust them and that you are more likely to be worthy of their trust in return.

Let Them See You Learning

There’s something about seeing a leader learn that speaks volumes to a team. It tells them that you are self-aware enough to know that you don’t know everything, and further still, you’re not even trying to hide the fact that you don’t know everything. This, of course, is impossible without the very first item in this post: being human.

What do you think? What others leadership actions would you add to the list? What else have you seen leaders do that built trust?

Team Not On Board? Check These 4 Things.



“The whole team’s not on board.”

It’s a common refrain in organizations. Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, either out loud or in your mind.

But why does it happen? And as a leader, what can you do about it?

It’s not unusual for teams or organizations to struggle with changes, projects, and/or initiatives; and the reasons for those struggles can be varied. However, there are some things we can think through that may help us move forward in a more unified way.

1. What, specifically, is the team not on board with? In other words, does the team know specifically what’s expected of them? Sometimes, organizations provide general, aspirational statements, which are fine; but they fail to provide the specifics of what it looks like for folks within the organization to live that out every day. In that case, it may be that what’s being perceived as folks not being on board is simply a case of them not knowing exactly what it is they’re supposed to be doing.

2. Is it a case of lack of alignment with the organization’s identity and values? Values are a big deal, and it’s important that organizations get them right. Sometimes, if organizations’ values are too vague or general, it will be nearly impossible to get the whole team on board with any sort of coherent behavioral expectations because they’re not prescribed and described with any specificity in the values. Thus, folks aren’t on board because there’s nothing identifiable for them to be on board with. However, if an organization has solid, concrete values that are unique to them and describe their identity and behavioral expectations, you have a sort of guidepost or standard against which folks can be held more objectively accountable.

3. Is it a leadership issue? Sometimes, folks have been beaten down by poor or even abusive leadership. I’ve seen this happen, and it’s not pretty. It’s vital that organizations and boards take a look at leaders and managers from the CEO all the way down and see if they’re living and leading in ways that jive with the organization’s values and leadership expectations. I’d highly recommend embracing servant leadership ideals as the standard, or else you could end up with some pretty toxic leadership.

4. How does the organization understand accountability? When it comes to being on board as a team, accountability is going to be huge. Accountability has its roots in real-deal trust, healthy conflict around ideas, and group commitment. If a team is human and vulnerable with each other, it builds a legit trust. That trust allows them to speak with each other openly, even disagreeing with other passionately about ideas and strategies. However, since that trust is in place, after those honest discussions have taken place, real commitment can happen. The team can lock arms and move forward together. And because of that group commitment, a functioning team will hold each other accountable (notice I said the team will hold each other accountable — I didn’t say the manager has to hold everyone accountable) for being on board.

So if your team’s not on board with something, consider these four things. Any that I missed? Feel free to add them below!