A lack of accountability is rarely intentional. More often, it’s the result of an underlying issue, such as unclear roles and responsibilities, limited resources, poor strategy, or unrealistic goals. This is why leaders who default to a plea for accountability often end up hitting a wall and feeling even more frustrated. A better strategy is to approach the issue with a leadership mindset.

The following steps can help you start the conversation, identify the real issue at hand, and solve it.

  • Check in with yourself first. When a work issue is causing you stress, pointing “outward” and blaming others is a normal first instinct. But if you want to have a productive conversation with someone who appears to “just not be getting it,” first consider if you may be contributing to the problem (even unintentionally). Instead of asking, “Why aren’t they doing their part?” ask “Is there anything I can do differently to help?” Self-awareness is a leadership super power, and reflecting in this way may help you recognize any unhelpful patterns that you can fall into.
  • Create a safe environment for the other person. Ask the person if you can schedule some time with them to discuss a business challenge. Making an appointment shows your commitment to taking the time to listen. Once you’ve set up time to talk, begin the conversation by asking questions. Avoid jumping directly into critical feedback or using judgmental language. It helps to assume positive intent in the other person. Listening, paying attention, and understanding the needs and motivations of the other person will help you put aside any assumptions you may be making about their character.
  • Ensure that there is clarity and a mutual agreement on how to move forward. Whether your goal is to help a direct report meet deadlines or to collaborate more effectively with a team member on a project, it’s vital to make sure that you both understand what the issue is, how to address it, what success looks like, what needs to be done, by who, and by when to achieve it.
  • Commit to setting those you work with up for success. As you begin to devise your plan, work with your colleague to set up realistic expectations. This is the only way to make sure you are both set up to win. Whether you are working with a peer, a direct report, or even somebody above you, before agreeing on next steps, ask them (and yourself): Does this all feel doable, given everything else on our plates? If the answer is no for either of you, go back to the drawing board. Your revised plan might be smaller in scope than what you had originally anticipated, but often baby steps lead to walking then to running.
  • Regularly track and measure progress. Make sure you get the agreed upon plan in writing so it can be revisited going forward if there are ever any questions on what was originally decided. Don’t just set it and forget it. Determine what communication tools you will use to check in on progress.

Pleading for more accountability isn’t the answer to your problem. Anyone can express frustration around an issue, but those who harness self-awareness and empathy not only find effective solutions but also build winning teams and colleagues for life. If you want to be a next-level leader or peer, one that people actually want to work with, shift your mindset, and practice these five steps. You’ll end up driving better results, more impactful change, and reducing your own frustration to boot.

If you’re interested in creating a culture of accountability in your workplace, Learning & Organization Development has a class designed to fast-track your success. We’ll be offering Crucial Conversations for Accountability on July 26th & 27th. To register, click HERE.


N Task (2021, May 19): Your 2022 Guide to Creating a Culture of Accountability in the Workplace
Harvard Business Review (2020, February 10) Melissa Raffoni: Does Your Team Have an Accountability Problem?