How to Hold People Accountable – an Important Leadership Tool


One of the hardest jobs of a leader is holding their people accountable.


Most of us humans have tendencies that make this leadership task necessary. We may avoid difficult tasks no matter their importance. We may procrastinate. We may not always work well with other people on the team once we’ve faced a challenge with them or from them. Or perhaps we’re just not as good at something as our leader thought we were when we were put in a position to do that thing.


Though the task of holding people accountable is not an easy one, it is necessary to keep an organization on track in order to achieve the organization’s objectives and mission.


There are two types of accountability, there’s self-directed and there’s leader-directed. To see a video on self-directed accountability, Click here.


Leader-Directed Accountability


A few things you’ll need to think about when it comes to being able to hold people accountable as the leader.

  1. There’s a reason they’re part of your organization.

There may be more than one reason too, but there’s at least one. People don’t do anything for no reason. If it’s a job, even if they’re just there for the money, that’s still a reason. For a job or a different type of organization, they may be there because they want to have an impact, or because it helps build their resume, or because someone else dragged them there. There is some reason they’re there.


  1. We do not intend to be selfish beings, but the simple fact is that, for almost anything we do, we want to know what’s in it for us.

Even when you’re doing those “selfless” acts of kindness… which I have a whole blog and webpage on that subject… I totally believe in it’s power, I do my best to constantly be doing those types of things for others… but it still makes me feel good to do it. I still feel like there’s an impact on the world for doing them, so that’s what’s in it for me.

There’s something in it for you when you’re doing anything. Keep that in mind too. People want to know what’s in it for them.


  1. If you can get people’s individual goals or objectives to align with the organization’s goals or objectives, then that’s going to give you more leverage when it comes to holding them accountable to the things that they need to be getting done. Whether that be for their own goals or for the organization’s goals, it’s powerful to align the two.


If I were to sit down and have a conversation with someone, because maybe they’re not performing at the level that I feel they could be or they should be, maybe not even the standard that has been defined for the organization, it would probably be a conversation like this.


On a side note, if people don’t know the standards of the organization or they don’t know the mission or they don’t know what they’re supposed to be working toward, that’s where you begin.


Make sure your team knows what you’re trying to accomplish, why you’re trying to accomplish it, and what the objectives are. Whether you call it mission, vision, or something else, they need that clarity in order to be productive.


They have to know those things as well as the standards of the team. Today, I’m working from the assumption that this stuff’s already been covered. If that hasn’t been covered yet, you have to do that first. You can’t hold people accountable to something you haven’t even shared with them yet, such as a standard or a vision.


Once I’ve covered that, if someone’s underperforming, then I’m going to sit down and have a conversation with them, and it’s going to be something along the lines of,


  1. “Tell me how it’s going.”


I first try to assess how they feel they are doing (from their perspective). You can ask questions like:

  • How do you feel about ______?
  • How do you feel about the mission or the objectives?
  • Are you aware of the standards regarding _______? (List standard you are needing them to improve and ones they are doing great at)

Try to gauge first how they’re feeling about those things. Once I know that, know they are clear on our standards, I know how they feel about the standards, I know they’re clear on what we’re trying to accomplish, then I can move on. In my experience, most times when I have this conversation, they’re like, “Oh yeah, that totally makes sense.” I don’t get a lot of push back on the standards that we have or disagreement on the organization’s mission or objectives.


  1. Now you can say, “Now, remind me again, what are your main objectives?


Other questions you can ask:

  • How does it benefit you to be part of this organization?
  • Why are you part of the organization?

I just want to make sure I understand these aspects as well. For an example today, let’s say they are with us, because they’re trying to build their resume. They don’t necessarily care about the mission or the vision or any of that stuff. All they care about is that they have something to build their resume with.


  1. If that were the case, then next step for me is to try to align the two: their objective and the organization’s objective.

I might say, “Cool, great, that works out perfectly because here’s the thing,” and I would share with them how the things we’re trying to achieve or the mission that we have helps them do that. I’d share how by helping us achieve those things is going to make their resume stronger.


Having a resume only say, “Oh, I was part of this club” is not nearly as impressive as a resume that says, “Oh, I was part of this club, and we achieved this and this and this.” Then the person can follow up and say, “Cool, tell me what you were involved in.” So your team member can say, “Oh yeah, I did this and this and this.”


The organization is likely to have more accomplishments overall than just one individual. We achieve more together. Being part of it can benefit the resumes of all involved. So in order to reap the benefits, each person needs to deserve to put it on their resume, and they do that by pulling their own weight, which is what the leader is holding them accountable to.


  1. I would remind that person that their goal and the objectives of the organization align perfectly.

It might sound like this… “Once we achieve these things, you’ll be able to put this and this and this on your resume, and then when people ask you in an interview to tell them more about it, you’re going to be able to tell them exactly how you helped.”


Remember, we want to make sure they know what’s in it for them.


  1. Now you can go back to the topic at hand—whatever you need them to improve in—whatever you’re holding them accountable about.

Share your feedback with them. It can begin with, “Here’s what I’m noticing… and it may be our fault, because maybe something wasn’t as clear as it could’ve been. I’m noticing your performance is here (lower) and here’s where we need you to be (higher) in order to help us achieve this goal. And when we do achieve it, it’s going to be great for the team and great for your resume.”


  1. Once you see they understand, make a plan for the next step they can take to move toward the goals.


Work together and figure out the next step. You can devise one on your own or you can have them brainstorm with you (which usually works better, even if you’re leading the conversation so it is directed where you need it to go) You can ask, “What do you think the next step should be? Great, I was thinking maybe some of these things.” Then pick one or two out of those together.


  1. Set up a date or time to check back in to see they’ve gotten that next step accomplished.


If you don’t hear back, reach out to get an update.


  1. Celebrate with them once they do finish the task or make an improvement, and then come up with the next step together again.


It’s good to keep people focused on just the next step, not the next ten steps.


Leader-directed accountability involves knowing

  • your mission
  • your objectives
  • your standards for the organization
  • the individual goals of the people on your team
  • what’s in it for them when the team is successful, and
  • how to align what’s in it for them and the organization’s goals.


I hope this has been helpful. I promise this stuff really works. I use it in my own business every day. We have a great team, and I feel very lucky, but I also know it had helped that I’ve been using this strategy for years.


Let me know if you have any questions. You can either contact me through the website or you can just simply email me. I’m happy to answer any questions and would love to hear how it’s going once you’ve used this strategy.


Go out and be the awesome leader you are.






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