How to Use Self-Directed Accountability to Hold People Accountable

As a leader, one of the things you have to do is hold your people accountable.

It’s a part of the role that is often is enjoyed as much as eating your least liked vegetable but as necessary to your organization’s health as nutrition is to your own.

There’s a way you can go about it that makes it less harsh—the same way smothering broccoli with cheese is a strategy for people, who really dislike broccoli, to make it more enjoyable.

There are two types of accountability: Self-Directed and Leader-Directed.

Let’s start with self-directed accountability. It’s led more by the person you are holding accountable and based on what they want to achieve. You’re leading them through the process but they’re really the ones coming up with all the reasons that they should be accountable for themselves.

It begins with talking about whatever it is they’re working toward. That could be something that they themselves have a goal about, or it could be something that aligns with the organizational goal. Anybody who’s part of your organization is there for some reason, so if you can find out why they’re there, that can help you when it comes to accountability.


Let me give you an example.
(See 2 live interviews of walking through this process at the end of this post)

Here’s the step by step process.


1.  Figure out what it is that they are working toward.

Whether it’s something that you’re wanting them to work towards, or it’s something that they themselves are trying to work towards, such as a personal goal.

The process works better for it to be a goal they have, so even if it’s something that you’re trying to help them work towards for the organization’s sake, then you want to at least find out how their own objectives, why they’re part of the organization, fits in with that objective that you have for the organization for this process to be most effective.


2. Ask them on a scale of 1 to 10, how important it is to them that they achieve this goal.


3. Ask them why they rated themselves that high.

That’s really the key here. This, by the way, was developed from an idea I got from Dan Pink in one of his books. The idea is asking them why they rated themselves that high, versus asking why they didn’t rate themselves higher. Most people are tempted to immediately tell you why they are not a 10 or why they rated themselves that low. In fact, you’ll see Josh do that in my interview with him.


4. Figure out the next action step that they can take toward achieving the goal.

Help them figure out that next action step. Not the next five; the next one.

If you want to put a step five here, it’s celebrate with them when they take that step, and then find out what the next step’s going to be.


Let’s walk through an example.


1.  If I were to ask somebody, “What’s a goal you’re working toward?” Let’s say someone said, “My goal is to lose ten pounds in the next month.” This is a health goal, but it can be any type of goal.


2. “Cool, on a scale of one to ten, rate how important that is to you.” They say, “Well, it’s a five.” They could say a two, they could say a nine, it doesn’t matter what the number is. This person says five. Great, the next question is,


3. “Tell me why you rated yourself that high?” Basically, why is it a five? Why is it not a one or two or three? You want to know why they rated themselves that high, because now when they give you the answers, they’re going to be reminding themselves of all the reasons that this goal is important to them.


Whether they’re saying, “I don’t feel very good, I want to have more energy, I want to fit back into my clothes, or because my dad just had a heart attack and I don’t want to go down that same path.” Whatever the reasons are, have them give you all the reasons why they would rate themselves as high as they did.


Even if someone says, “I rate myself a two,” you can say, “Cool, why didn’t you rate yourself a zero or a one? They say, “I rate myself a nine.” “Great, why not a four, five, seven, eight?” Have them remind you and themselves of all the reasons that it’s important to them they achieve this goal.


4. “Great, what is the very next action step?”


Not the next ten. The thing about us humans is that if we focus on too many things to do next, then often times we get overwhelmed, and we get sort of paralyzed from taking any step. It’s better just to say, “What’s the next step?” Even if the next step is only something like going to the grocery store and buying healthy food, sitting down and creating a menu for the week that I can then go shopping with or putting a work-out in the schedule. Whatever it is, figure out the next step.


Have them pick the next step, and then you can say, as their leader, something along the lines of, “Awesome, can you let me know as soon as you get that step done? Because I want to celebrate with you. I’m excited for you, I love that you’re working toward this, I care about your success, and I want to celebrate with you.”


Celebrating can be as simple as giving them an encouraging word, a congratulations, you’re awesome, a high five, asking them how they feel about their progress or something similar. It does not mean you have to take someone out for a drink as a reward for creating a grocery list.


When they get back to you saying, “I have completed it,” help them celebrate. Then it’d be great, as their leader to say, “Cool, what’s the next step?” You just continue down that process—keep them focused on the next step for them.


Studies show positive reinforcement works so much better than negative reinforcement.

It’s better for you to celebrate with them on their wins and have them crave that positive reinforcement, rather than trying to force people into something.


This doesn’t work as well: “If you don’t do it, then this is going to happen.” It works so much better to help them celebrate and stay on the positive side of things.


To see a video on leadership-directed accountability click here. The main difference between the two is self-directed involves them coming up with the goal and the reasons they want to achieve it, and you are helping them stay on track.  Leader-directed is holding them accountable to the standards of the organization or the goals you’ve set up.

Click here to download a transcript of 2 interviews: one with Lily and one with Josh. These are two people on my team who had no idea what I was interviewing them about. I just asked if I could video a conversation with them to use for my site. I wanted the examples to be as natural as they could be so you could see what this process looks like from start to finish.


I’d love to hear how it goes for you when you use this process.

Let me know if you have any questions. You can always contact me through the contact menu option above. If you have my email address, feel free to send me a direct email, whatever is easiest for you. I look forward to answering your questions.



2 comments on “How to Use Self-Directed Accountability to Hold People Accountable

  1. I really appreciate your instruction. I would like to apply it to myself first to see how I will apply it to others:
    In the short term: Every semester, I have tried to:
    _Hunt scholarships in contest, competition, essays (8/10): I can only participate in contests I am advantageous to. Also, it’s not easy for me to win scholarships by writing essays when there are a large amount of scholarship essays submitted. Another reason for me to write is to improve my writing skills, as practice makes perfect.
    _Volunteer as much as possible to pile up my experience, skills, and CV (8/10): Volunteer activities are my priority after studying and homework.
    _Study hard to acquire GPA as high as possible (10/10): I can be qualified a member of some organizations offering scholarships as well, such as Psi Beta, Phi Theta Kappa, Honors college, etc. based on my high GPA.
    In the long term:
    _Work with my brother-in-law to acquire professional experience and receive cash from him (because I’m an international student) (6/10): Because it takes me a whole working day to travel, the day should be completely unoccupied for me. Financially, it’s better have than nothing. As for professional skills, I don’t need to be a so much skillful worker, since it’s enough for me to know how to do the job when I become an employer without being fooled by workers.
    _Expand my relationships by getting more acquaintances through classes and clubs I volunteer in, which build a firm foundation for my green card by a serious marriage if possible ^^ (4/10): I have in my mind numerous ways to become a US citizen. It’s especially true after Donald Trump becomes the 45th US President, as he appreciates those who can benefit the US by their talents. Besides, I love a marriage coming naturally while it’s undeniable that having spatial relationships is valuable for business affairs.

    1. Hey Teo,
      Sounds like you have a solid list to work on. Clarity on that is so important, so great work so far! Stay awesome, Amiee

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