What is accountability?  What makes it a powerful coaching tool?  Why does it make a difference when it comes to setting and reaching your goals and objectives?

I thought about these questions today after my work with a client.   She frequently tells me how important her weekly accountability check-in is to keep her moving forward.

It’s easy to set goals.  Realizing those goals is often an altogether different matter.  A main reason that clients come to coaching is because they have been unable to achieve an important aim on their own.  They may also need help in clarifying goals, and then mapping out a plan, a strategy to keep them on track.  Once they begin to move forward, it’s key that they continue to stay on their path, especially at those times that life circumstances might threaten to derail them.  There’s always the danger, too, of losing motivation when we encounter obstacles, or fail to get results as quickly as we had hoped.

In coaching, that’s where accountability comes in.  Accountability is having your clients regularly account for what they said they were going to do.  As a coach, accountability is characterized by the asking of three questions:  What will you do?  When will you do it?  How will I know?   These questions are not for the coach; they are for the client.  The coach has no attachment to the results of a client’s accountability, other than the coach’s commitment to the client’s overall vision. The coach holds the client accountable to the commitment they have made towards that intended goal.  No judgment occurs with accountability.  The intention is to keep a client steadily moving forward towards an overall objective, step- by- step.

So how does it work?  Here’s an example.  Say your goal is to secure a new position in 3 months.  What would be the first step?   Is it to clarify exactly what you are looking for?  If you are clear on your objective, will you need to create a plan for your search?   Will you need to review and update your resume, or your profile on professional sites, such as LinkedIn?  What needs to happen to begin the process?

Once you have a plan, accountability will keep you moving ahead.  If your next step is to update your resume and qualifications, by when will you have this done?  With a coach or an accountability partner, you commit to a time frame, a date by which you will have your resume prepared and ready to go.  You also commit to letting this person know that you have completed your commitment.  Once complete, you set your next goal.  Perhaps it will be to send out a certain number of resumes by a specific date.  On that date, you check in again.  If you completed your commitment, what’s the next step?  A follow up call or email may be in order.  There’s your next accountability.  And so on.  Slowly and steadily, you continue to move forward towards your aim.

By now the Big Question is probably lurking around in the back of your mind:  What happens if you don’t do what you said you were going to do?  Your coach is not there to judge you.  In a coaching relationship, an experienced coach will always ask you at the beginning of your relationship:  How do you want to be held accountable?  What works best for you – gentleness, a direct and firm manner, something in between?  If you consistently come to coaching sessions without  completing your commitments, it may be time to explore what is going on.  What’s blocking you?  What holds you back?  Is this goal truly important to you, or is it something you feel you have to or should do?  These are the places that people often get stuck or give up on their goal altogether.  A coach can help you explore those places, and find ways to navigate them to continue moving forward.

When it comes to beginning and staying with an exercise program, having an  accountability partner can mean the difference between getting up early to walk or turning over and going back to sleep.  Knowing someone is counting on you to show up three mornings a week at 7:00 am can make all the difference between success and failure – for both of you!

Every successful person will tell you that they had help along the way to achieving their dreams.  None of us do it alone.  There’s a reason professional athletes have coaches.  One of the main reasons is that they are held accountable.  And that’s because accountability works.

Coach’s action step:  Is there something you want to accomplish, but just haven’t been able to get done?  Find an accountability partner that you feel can remain objective (this is important), and ask that person to help you out for the week.  Commit to take one step towards your aim by a certain date, and to check back in at that time, regardless of whether you are complete.  See how it goes.  If you got it done, that’s great.  If not, explore what may have gotten in your way, make any necessary adjustments, and just keep going – you can do it!

Categories: Wellness


Donna Wiss · November 5, 2013 at 7:10 pm

As always I love your articles and wisdom! This article on Accountability is spot on and perfect timing. I just came back from our bi-annual nutrition conference which is when I and our team revisit, reset, and/or set our goals for the next conference. I am going to re-read this article and make sure I am doing all these activities with my Team and I am also providing this information to my business partner above me.
Thanks for all you share!

    Suzanne Levy · November 6, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Donna, thank you for letting me know that! I always try to provide practical information when I write, and it is great to know that you found these ideas useful and applicable to your own life and goals…..

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