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Accountability matters and here's why

Justin Shelley Leadership & Life Coach.

One of the coolest and defining qualities of coaching is that it creates accountability via a measuring tool for taking action and moving forward in the coaching relationship.

But what do I mean by accountability and taking action?

During my coach training programme with iPEC Coaching, as students we were taught about accountability by being introduced to the “Accountability Cup”. At the start or our training, we were all asked to make several commitments to our Lead Trainer, one of which was to be always punctual during our classroom training. We all made a commitment to turn up on time for our morning lessons and when returning from breaks and lunches.

As part of our accountability agreement, during our training modules, any member of the faculty who turned up either late for a class or returned late from a coffee break or from lunch was asked to place £1 into the Accountability Cup.

What was interesting about this simple but effective exercise was that not only did it help us learn how to keep to our agreement, but it also produced some very interesting reactions and triggers depending on the class members, including some wonderful excuses not to pay the £1 (particularly after the fifth time of a student being late).

Apart from people not wanting to part with their money every time they were late (we were encouraged to pay and not forced) the experience provided some useful insights into accountability and how it can be used to move people to take action, as well as how it can uncover all sorts of wonderful learning opportunities when commitments are not fulfilled.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines accountability as:

“The fact of being responsible for what you do and able to give a satisfactory reason for it, or the degree to which this happens”

In a coaching relationship accountability provides several benefits to both the client and the coach; firstly, by allowing the client to keep focus on any actions or tasks identified during the coaching session, and also by creating the necessary momentum between coaching sessions and achieving their overall goals. Accountability also provides the coach with the necessary tools and authority to keep their clients always moving forward (or not, as the case may be) which is an essential part of the process.

Designing Accountability

During a typical coaching session there may be several actions or activities identified by the client that they wish to take forward and implement outside of the session. Part of the coach’s responsibility is to then help the client solidify those actions into quantifiable and measurable tasks and to design accountability for each of the agreed tasks.

As each coaching relationship is unique and every client is different, designing and agreeing accountability that works for each client is essential. Accountability could be as simple as a WhatsApp message on an agreed date to confirm completion of a task or to provide a summarised account of how an activity unfolded.

It is very important that the coach and client have a mutual understanding of what the client will be accountable for.

Put simply, when designing accountability, the coach will ask the client:

  • What are you agreeing to do?

  • When are you going to do it by?

  • How will I know when you’ve done it?

These three simple but powerful questions are the key and glue that keeps the coaching relationship moving forward. Accountability therefore provides a structure to the ongoing coaching and helps to keep clients on track with their end goals.

Whilst it is the coaches' job to hold their clients accountable for their actions, it is not the role of the coach to judge, blame or scold the client if they do not complete their actions, quite the contrary.

What is interesting about using accountability is that when a client does not achieve a desired action or goal, this is often a huge opportunity to identify blocks, procrastination, fear, or indeed to uncover realisation that what the client thought they would like to achieve can sometimes be in complete contrast with their values and may not be something the client wishes to pursue in the future.

To a coach, these “nuggets of gold” as I like to refer to them, are further potential opportunities for growth and development which can be explored further should the client wish to pursue them.

Therefore, accountability isn’t just about achieving tasks and actions identified during the coaching session. Accountability also provides the client an opportunity to give an account of what worked, what didn’t work and perhaps what they might do differently next time.

As a coach, I believe strongly that if there was zero accountability there would be no foundation for the coaching relationship to work. When a client agrees to the process of accountability, this gives me permission and authority to highlight any excuses, avoidance, and any resistance I observe.

It is part of my job as a coach to hold up the mirror and call out any nonsense or crafty excuses, without judgement of course.

I hope that exploring the topic of accountability has provided you with some insight into its application in coaching. If my article has prompted any thought or questions and you would like to get in touch, I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.


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