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March 29, 2022

How to Be an Accountability Partner – #MTtalk Roundup

Mike Barzacchini

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©© GettyImages/DeanMitchell

Trouble achieving your goals? Then perhaps you need an accountability partner: someone in your professional or personal life who helps you to work on a goal that really matters to you.

Mike Barzacchini

You may have started a new project or exercise regimen, or you're finally trying to finish writing that book. Your accountability partner is a trusted person who provides meaningful support as you work toward those goals.

Over the course of my career, I've been a better starter than a finisher. I love the thrill of generating ideas and launching projects. As I've matured, I've come to understand and value finishing. But that doesn't mean it's any less of a challenge, especially on larger projects.

For those bigger or longer-term initiatives, I've found that often an accountability partner can help me to stay on task – and yes, even finish!

But having a partner isn't like having a genie that will grant you three accountability wishes. It takes work and responsibility for both parties.

"If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together."

African proverb

Accountability You Can Count On

The best and most effective accountability partnerships I've been a part of have had these six characteristics in common:

  • Clarity. Have clear objectives in mind for your project or goal. And know exactly why you're seeking someone to help hold you accountable.
  • Honesty. First, be honest with yourself. Why do I want to work with an accountability partner? Then be honest with your partner. How can they best help you to achieve your goals?
  • Reciprocity. Make sure that your partnership isn't just a one-way street. Even if you're the person who's being helped, find ways to say "thank you" and perhaps help your partner with a challenge or goal they may be facing.
  • Consistency. Set consistent times to meet. Share expectations and topics prior to each meeting. Follow up with action steps. Who does what next?
  • Closure. Even if the partnership is ongoing and long-lasting, remember to close specific chapters as progress is made and projects are completed.
  • Celebration. Make a big deal about your successes, no matter how small. And remember to express gratitude to the person who's helped you stay on task.

Accountability Partners' Checklist

Asking questions is a great way to define roles and responsibilities – and to set clear expectations up front for both partners.

One accountability partner I worked with for many years would ask some version of the same questions when I'd come to him with a new project, challenge or idea:

  • What's your specific goal?
  • What is your plan for achieving the goal?
  • How much time will it take?
  • Where will you find the time?
  • When do you expect to finish?
  • What might get in your way?
  • How will you overcome this?
  • What will success look like?

By getting me to answer these questions up front, he was already starting to hold me accountable. When I've been able to return the favor, and helped colleagues to stay accountable, I've found that it's just as rewarding for me as for the person I'm trying to help.

And by helping them to stay on task, I learn along the way and shore up my own accountability behaviors.

Help Is All Around – If You Know Where to Look

As you seek an accountability partner, understand that one type of partnership may not fit every situation or goal. I have colleagues who've joined accountability communities that meet regularly to help all members focus and make progress toward their individual goals.

And recently I've co-partnered with an accountability partner. They help me and I help them.

No matter the accountability path you choose, remember the basics: work with someone you trust; set clear goals; respect the time, talents and energy your partner is sharing; show up, do the work; share results; and thank them.

About This Week's "Accountability Partner" Chat

During Friday's #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed what to look for in an accountability partner, and how to be a good one. Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:

Q1. What does the phrase "accountability partner" mean to you?

@PG_pmp "Accountability partner" – a person who one can rely on at the time when needed most.

@SoniaH_MT To me, an accountability partner means a person who: is mutually trusted, has my best interest in mind, wants me to succeed, calls me out when I deviate from my stated course, offers me help when I seem to be struggling toward that stated goal.

Q2. What difference does an accountability partner make?

@Midgie_MT They help me to "stay honest," in that I cannot use excuses when I do not do something. It helps me to maintain focus rather than get distracted or use other jobs/tasks as a reason to not take action on my priority goal.

@Yolande_MT When you want to go rogue on your plan, knowing you have to report to your accountability partner is a great psychological "tool" to keep you on track.

Q3. Shouldn't we just hold ourselves accountable?

@Tanjiskas If no one is watching it is easy to do the easy thing we are used to. Our brain finds a way to justify doing the things we are comfortable [doing] with it. Tricks us into thinking that it is safer to keep everything as it is.

@SarahH_MT Well yes in an ideal world perhaps we would all hold ourselves accountable without the need for someone else to help us. But life is not that simple and anyway, why plough on alone when an accountability partner could help us thrive? Better together, right?

Q4. When have you found it most helpful to have an accountability partner?

@DhongdeSupriya The goals I know I won't be able to sustain, like walks after work... because I know I have someone waiting for me, I am able to push myself.

@harrisonia I would have loved to have accountability partners for things outside the workplace. It would've been helpful having these partners for accountability with industry advancement/opportunities or weight loss/management.

Q5. What qualities do you look for when you select an accountability partner?

@hopegovind Honesty, transparency, accountability, openness.

@NWarind Courage first, then sincerity.

Q6. Can you hold others accountable without being accountable yourself? Explain.

@BRAVOMedia1 One can only give what they possess within themselves. So one must be accountable in order to be a supportive mentor for others.

@SoniaH_MT If you hold others accountable without being accountable yourself, this is called being a hypocrite. (Especially as a leader, how can you ask me to do what YOU won't do?)

Q7. How far can/should you go when holding someone accountable?

@Midgie_MT I believe there is a limit between encouraging them to take the actions they said they were going to do, and pushing them to do it or insisting that they stay on course. Life happens and sometimes we do need to alter course.

@MikeB_MT It may help to have ground rules up front. So here's why we've engaged in this accountability partnership. Here's how we will meet and communicate. Here's how we know we're helping each other. That may help determine if I've gone too far (or not far enough!).

Q8. What should you not do as an accountability partner? Why?

@SarahH_MT Don't take over or make it all about you or make assumptions about how easy you think it should be. Don't judge them for doing things differently to how you would do it. And don't manage them or tell them off.

@ColfaxInsurance You should never seem like you're forcing someone to do anything. Set up a schedule to check in, don't nag all the time about whatever it is you're helping them stay accountable for. They'll end up resenting you if you come across as demanding or pushy.

Q9. Imagine you're an accountability partner, and you feel you're wasting your time. What do you do?

@TheTomGReid Affirming, encouraging, educating, are never wastes of time, though it can be [a] "pearls before swine" situation. Dispense kindness whenever you can. If another's choices cause you pain, it might be time to back away.

@Dwyka_Consult Ask if they still need you. If they say they do, have a conversation about expectations

Q10. How can you coach someone to become a great accountability partner?

@HloniphileDlam7 By demonstrating accountability and giving people the opportunity to transform and unlearn negative behaviors. Guiding and coaching individuals without embarrassing them is key.

@Yolande_MT Remind them to be assertive but gentle, have empathy but not be manipulated, have mercy/grace yet be willing to motivate and stretch someone.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.

Coming Up

While an accountability partner can play a major role in helping a person to accomplish a goal, people sometimes become defensive when they're held to account. Some people are just more defensive by nature.

In our Twitter poll this week, we want to know why you think people become defensive when you ask them a non-confrontational question. Vote here.

Accountability Partner Resources

(Note that you'll need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the following resources in full.)

Developing Personal Accountability

Working With Lazy People

Managing People With Low Ambition

Blanchard's ABCD Model of Trust

Performance Agreements

Helping Your People Develop Emotional Intelligence

Holding People Accountable

Supporting Your People

Taking Responsibility in a New Leadership Role

Engaging People in Learning

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Limited time offer: 30% off all memberships

Upskill and don’t be left behind. Get unlimited access to management and performance coaching whenever and wherever you need it. Get 30% off all memberships. Try it free for 7 days when you choose a Monthly membership. Offer ends September 29.
Get 30% off

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