I’m the queen of distractions. I’m delighted by anything bright and shiny that has nothing to do with work, sometimes to the point that I stop what I’m doing (yes, even writing this blog!) and investigate. So several years ago, when a colleague suggested we form an accountability group, I said yes. When you have your own business, or you work alone (which can happen even in a large organization), you are the one who keeps you on track. Consequently, I agreed to meet regularly with other women to explore accountability in the interest of getting more done and being more successful in our businesses.
I’m well aware of my monkey mind, and in fact, I often enjoy the show. Things that are not bright and shiny also distract me. I get distracted by dirty dishes, plants that need watering right this minute, and checking my hair to see if it looks any better today than yesterday. The sweet distractions are the best. Checking the Internet for a book someone mentioned to me yesterday. Playing with the dog. Strumming a few tunes on my ukulele.
However, I knew there could be a massive payoff from holding myself accountable to others. So to do it in partnership with other women sounded great (and of course there would be food!). We each had our own work style. For example, we set our personal goals, conducted business in our own way, and measured our outcomes in ways that made sense in our respective occupations. I felt drawn to having a time and place where I could report in, get some feedback, and share strategies and resources for staying on target and focused on my outcomes.
The Normal Bag of Tricks
Most of us employ the same few tricks for everyday productivity:
- Using a daily schedule that includes not only appointments but slots for doing particular projects or pieces of projects.
- Maintaining a workspace away from home (or a sequestered place within our homes just for work).
- Developing relationships with colleagues, usually through networking, which is essential whether you’re self-employed or an employee in an organization.
I made good use of these elementary tools. For example, the combination of these three tools helped me complete important goals:
- I earned several degrees by staying organized and on task.
- I completed several articles for academic journals, kept a blog going for several years, and wrote a book.
- I trained a rescue pup to be an amazingly obedient and responsive companion (We gals need more of that in our relationships and not just with 4-leggeds!)
However, accountability is a more powerful method for accomplishing goals because you are showing up not just for yourself but for others who are relying on your participation. I’m an introvert, so having accountability partners felt like a gift, something that would break me out of the entrepreneurial cave.
Preparing for Accountability: Questions to Consider
Many people don’t understand what accountability is or why it is important. Or how to introduce it into their lives. A simple definition of accountability is taking responsibility for your decisions, actions, and outcomes, including your mistakes.
Accountability is a strategy for success. It can include announcing your intentions, partnering with a friend, or scheduling weekly check-ins with a confidant or coach. Getting back on track is easier when you stick with the same accountability partner over a long time. For example, they know if you’re not forthcoming about your struggles to get things done. A reliable accountability partner doesn’t let you off the hook—they keep you accountable!
Before you establish an accountability relationship, think about your answers to these questions:
- What outcomes are you ready to be accountable for? Are there goals you would prefer not to share?
- Are you comfortable talking about your dreams and goals with another person?
- When are you willing to act on them? Can you set and share reasonable timelines and measurable goals? Will you need help from your accountability partner in this area?
- What kinds of things do you need help with, if you were to start today?
Your answers to the next questions will help you know whether you are ready:
- Can you be honest about your goals and ambitions?
- Are you willing to take personal responsibility for your actions and results?
- Can you own what is working and not working in your work, relationships, finances, and more?
- Can you admit when things don’t work without making excuses or blaming others?
- Can you accept failure as a step in the process of getting to success?
Most likely, you’ll cultivate new skills in an accountability partnership. If you cannot answer yes to the following questions, consider whether you would be willing to learn these skills in order to practice accountability with another person.
- Can you listen with curiosity, not judgment?
- Can you be empathic without wanting to solve your partner’s frustrations, unless she directly asks for your help?
- Can you point out when your partner is blaming or making excuses instead of owning their decisions and actions?
- Can you give positive and supportive feedback, even when pointing out actions that backfired or commitments that weren’t met?
Supportive accountability partnerships work best when there is a structure. You treat your accountability check-ins just like your other work meetings. You show up when you say you will. You prepare for this meeting just as you prepare for all your business meetings. You schedule the amount of time you and your partner have agreed upon for your session.
My group began with five members, and during the first year, three of the women drifted away, due to changing occupations, moving, and new family issues. That left just me and Deborah. We decided to soldier on, and considered our accountability partnership an experiment, something we might even document someday.
Who is a Good Accountability Partner?
An accountability partner is someone who will help you keep your commitments that you make to yourself. You can team up with someone who is working on similar goals or something completely different. It’s more important to find someone with goals of her own and who wants help staying on track than to choose someone in a similar occupation. Typically, your accountability partner will have different goals from yours. However, what matters most is picking an accountability partner who can meet regularly, give you honest feedback, and not judge or interfere with your choices.
Personal qualities to look for in an accountability partner include:
- She is committed to your growth and success as well as her own.
- She is trustworthy; that is, she is a person who does what she says she is going to do.
- She supports you without taking responsibility for your behavior; in other words, she respects your autonomy.
- She gives your honest, usable feedback.
- She is willing to will call you on your behavior when you are making excuses or blaming others for your mistakes or delayed success.
How To Work With An Accountability Partner
Once you have found your accountability partner, schedule your first meeting to establish guidelines for your working relationship. Guidelines can include specifics about your meeting time, such as when, where, how long, how often, what you’ll talk about, and what’s excluded in your accountability meetings. Remember, you can be, and most likely will be, working on different goals than your partner. At this first meeting, share your overall goals, your timelines, and why these goals are essential to you. Decide whether it will be in person, by phone, or virtually.
If you need some structure to get started, here are some accountability questions to begin with:
- What was your biggest accomplishment last week?
- What do you still need to complete?
- What do you need to complete it?
- What do you need help with? How can you find the help you need?
- What do you need from me to move forward? (This question can lead to you or your partner identifying what you want to be held accountable for when you meet again.)
Our group started out meeting every two weeks. When we ended up with just the two of us, we kept meeting every two weeks.
Deborah moved out of Albuquerque after four years of meeting together. Both of our lives had become more chaotic, and we decided to talk weekly instead of every other week. Did you expect me to say we decided to quit? The depth of understanding and commitment to each other’s well being had grown so deep and familiar, that neither of us can imagine ending this unique relationship.
After five years, we still have our weekly accountability call. We discuss work and home, money and marriage, stresses and successes. Because we have one hour to talk, we prepare by prioritizing our topics. We like to bring at least one professional goal and one personal goal to the table. We have continuity from call to call. It’s a unique relationship where both of us show up just as we are, with whatever we have done or not done, and know that we will get unconditional support, honest but critical feedback when needed, and celebration for all that we have achieved.
Are you interested in setting up an accountability partnership? If you want some ideas or suggestions, I’m here to give you the support you need to have something this powerful in your life. Just contact me with your questions, and I will reply. Please email me directly or use the Contact Form.