Holding yourself accountable

We often make commitments to change but then don’t follow through. Why is this?

Immunity to Change‘ (a term coined by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey in their book of the same name) might be one reason. In summary, we have an unconscious competing commitment that is more powerful than our conscious commitment.

Alternatively, we might not be as committed as we thought we were. Maybe our ‘commitment’ stemmed from a sense of guilt or shame or was in response to the expectations we felt from others.

Maybe we are simply ‘too busy’ and find it difficult to prioritise our own needs and allocate time to reflect, maybe we respond better to external pressure, maybe we think and reflect better when we’re talking.

Whatever the reason, having a coach or ‘accountability partner’ can help

What’s an ‘accountability partner’?

An accountability partner is someone who holds you accountable for delivering on the personal commitments you make. This is rather different to having a coach because it’s a partnership where each person holds the other accountable. Each person is wanting to be held accountable by the other for meeting their own personal commitments.

Accountability partners meet at agreed intervals (e.g. monthly, quarterly) and each reports on their progress against their commitments. These meetings provide a deadline, external pressure and also a sounding board. The ‘balance of exchange’ between the partners is achieved by each holding the other accountable. It can be both fun and effective.

If you are interested in using an accountability partner, the following third-party reading material may help.

What is an accountability partner and how to choose yours
Getting the best from accountability partnership

How is a coach different?

A coach can hold you accountable (if this is agreed upfront) but has a different approach. Rather than being a ‘partnership’ where each person is held accountable by the other, the coach devotes their time to the coachee’s agenda and not the coach’s agenda. The coach can help the coachee to explore, better understand and reflect on why they are not meeting their personal commitments.

An accountability partner is less likely to have the knowledge and skill to facilitate reflection of your deeper issues, whereas a coach is trained to do just this. Accountability partners are often friends and people you might meet in other situations. This is not the case with a professional coach. Retaining only a professional relationship ensures that the coach is client-focused and uncluttered by other dynamics in the relationship.

If you enter a relationship with a coach for these purposes, then it’s important to agree a sequence of coaching sessions in advance. They need to be paced in a way appropriate to your personal commitments and at a time that is realistically achievable. If coaching sessions are infrequent, it can sometimes be helpful to have ‘nudges’ by e-mail to prompt self-reflection in between sessions.

A professional coach is trained to view ‘resistance’ as information. If you’re not meeting your personal commitments and/or not keeping to your agreed coaching sessions, why is this. What does this tell us about your strength of commitment, and what’s needed to increase commitment just a little bit. Increasing commitment to your commitment may be the first place to start!

High angle of pensive African American female freelancer in glasses and casual clothes focusing on screen and interacting with netbook while sitting at table with glass of yummy drink on cafe terrace in sunny day

Technology has made coaching vastly more accessible and affordable

Beware of the parent-child dynamic

When working with an accountability partner or a coach, it’s important to be alert to the risk of a ‘parent-child’ dynamic forming. You are holding yourself accountable for meeting your own personal commitments. The other person facilitates this but nothing more.

If you start to feel that you are meeting your commitments to please your accountability partner or coach rather than yourself then you are slipping into a familiar relationship. That is, you have assumed the role of a ‘child’ in the relationship and the other person the ‘parent’. This occurs unconsciously but you will likely appear childlike to the partner/coach and they will feel increasingly ‘parental’. They may even start telling you off for not meeting your commitments!

The risk of this dynamic forming is highest if you’re very sensitive to the expectations of your parents. It might be that your personal commitment is to be less sensitive to their expectations and to be more independent.

Upfront acknowledgement of the risk of this dynamic forming is helpful. When either party notices that it might be forming, it provides useful information as it suggests that the coachee is not attending to their own needs sufficiently and some ‘course correction’ is needed.





What will you do?


If you would like to discuss this further, please contact Mike Price at Brilliance Unlocked Ltd.


(c) Brilliance Unlocked Ltd, 2021