The Self-Accountability Trap©

I believe that self-accountability is the key to positively changing the execution and outcomes for every person, relationship, team and organization. I also believe that it should be the focus and desired outcome for yourself, both personally and professionally. However, there’s a massive trap that you need to be aware of when it comes to the journey of self-accountability. This trap actually has two elements: 1. Wrongly concluding that you’re fully self-accountable (at least before you truly are); and 2. Believing that you as a self-accountable person do not need to have accountable goals or accountability support.

Recently, one of my clients (a Chief Operating Officer) shared this story with me. His organization was very committed to setting actionable and accountable goals for 2015 and to having each member of the leadership team be accountable for achieving those goals. This process alone is challenging enough because many teams and organizations struggle with setting accountable goals, making clear commitments and implementing effective and supportive accountability processes. They were making good progress with most of the team leaders, but the goals for one team leader were too vague to allow for any type of accountability check-in (at the end of the year or during the year). The goals were mostly subjective and based upon a “sense” of how the team did.

When my client challenged the team leader on this point, she (the team leader) responded with something to the effect of the following: “I’m self-accountable, so I don’t need to set more specific goals or to be held accountable.” This is the big trap–believing that you are (or should be) self-accountable and using this perspective to avoid having accountable goals or some form of accountability to another person or group. I have heard this argument many times before, and while it feels good to claim your self-accountability (or at least that goal), it’s a trap because self-accountability is the outcome of consistently executing on accountable goals. The key is that you always want to have accountable goals against which you execute and model self-accountability.

Likewise, having a person, group or team to which you report on your commitments and objectives is all part of being self-accountable. However, the accountability check-in process is much shorter and plays out as follows:

Accountability Question:         What is the status of your objectives and commitments? OR Where are we with this project?

Self-Accountable Answer:       All objectives and commitments are completed, on target or handled.

Short and sweet, but the accountability process still takes place and this process requires accountable goals (specific and clear commitments and time frames).

Yes, the goal for all of us should be to live and lead from a place of self-accountability, but that goal (or even the claimed achievement of that goal) does not negate the need for clear commitments with specific time frames–accountable goals. If you are or desire to be self-accountable, then follow these simple steps:

  1. Make or agree to clear commitments with specific time frames;
  2. Invite having someone or some team serve as your accountability partner; and
  3. Consistently do what you say you will do when you say you will do it (whether someone checks in with you or not).

These steps will keep you out of the self-accountability trap and lead down the road to self-accountability and personal integrity. It’s really that simple, even if it’s not always easy.


  1. Great goals…..plan-strategy-vision. Goal setting keeps us fousced. My goal for May was to eat 80% fruit and vegetables and 20% whatever and I lost 11 pounds 🙂 For the month of June I want to do more weight training exercises. I’ll be checking on you!

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