Research Paper By Megan Bautista
(Life Coach, AUSTRALIA)
Whilst the concept of accountability is by no means new, as time has passed, its power and benefit have become much better understood. Why is it that some children respond well to being tasked with homework and assignments, whereas others rebel and find any excuse not to complete them? Why is it that some people work better in an office, under a boss who is regularly tasking them and following up, versus others who thrive as entrepreneurs working their own hours and dictating their own workload? In this research paper, we will focus on the research writer and author Gretchen Rubin has done on understanding how accountability can be beneficial when we respond well to outer expectations. More specifically, this paper will cover how understanding accountability and expectations can improve and strengthen the coaching process.
What is Accountability?
The definition of the word ‘Accountability’ according to the Cambridge Dictionary is ‘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 simple terms and for the purpose of this paper, accountability is being held responsible for something you say you are going to do, irrespective of whatever the outcome is, or whether you complete it. Accountability is knowing that there are external risks or consequences at stake if you do not follow through on what you have said, but it also means that there may be external rewards for following through or going above and beyond.
An easy example would be to look at the relationship between a manager and a staff member. The manager tasks the staff member with completing a proposal by the end of the week. The staff member knows that at the end of the week, their manager will ask for the proposal and expect an update. If the proposal is not completed, some external consequences could involve that staff member losing their job, disappointing their manager and upsetting the client who the proposal may be for. If the proposal is written well and submitted on time, external rewards could be the manager feeling very happy with the staff member’s work, giving them a promotion and having happy clients who may provide more work and business in future.
Accountability and Success
Whilst it may seem like accountability is external, accountability does start within oneself. Though accountability is part of the coaching process and framework, it is a real area of focus as it can truly be the different aspect of whether someone is successful in implementing change. The first step to this is ensuring that your client is ready to be held accountable. ‘The best way to get people to accept accountability is to set them up to be successful’ – Gordon Tredgold. We want our clients to succeed, so it is important that before we approach the accountability aspect, we help to create an environment that they feel they can succeed in. That way, your client can take full responsibility for whichever action they choose to take when the time comes, and will do their best if things don’t go according to plan because they have actively decided to be accountable for their actions.
Expectations and How They Relate
Gretchen Rubin talks about expectations and how different people respond and create habits in her book ‘Better than Before’. Gretchen talks about four different personality types (Obliger, Upholder, Questioner and Rebel) but for today the focus will be on the Obliger personality type which whilst all personality types could benefit from coaching in one way or another, I believe Obligers would benefit the most. According to Gretchen, ‘Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. They’re motivated by external accountability; they wake up and think, “What must I do today?”’ (https://quiz.gretchenrubin.com/obliger-result/). People that respond well to outer expectations and aren’t so good at meeting inner expectations and need accountability to be able to get things done. These are the people who cannot make time for themselves and need a personal trainer to regularly exercise or join a book club to regularly read books, otherwise, they never manage to get things done that they’d like to do. This is why someone who is looking to make real change in their lives and struggles to meet inner expectations would benefit from having a coach and having regular sessions where they could be held accountable for the progress and changes they wish to make.
Accountability is not only useful for people who cannot make time for themselves, but also for people like me who suffer from perfectionism. Perfectionism can be described as “a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high-performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations” (https://personalexcellence.co/blog/perfectionism/). Perfectionism is a debilitating underlying belief that can really stop someone in their tracks. I know this from personal experience, as being a perfectionist has stopped me from doing and achieving things in the past and I have had to manage this belief every day and set up strategies to mitigate this. Perfectionism is like an elite form of procrastination, and there is nothing like mini-goals and due dates to get a procrastinator moving!
For perfectionists, there is never a good time or a right time to get something done unless it can be done perfectly. This can make it very hard to even just start new projects or begin new goals. I think it can often be misconceived that a perfectionist is simply not motivated enough or too lazy to get something done, when in fact it is their own perfectionism getting in the way. A perfectionist may think, ‘I am not equipped with enough skills to start my own business, therefore I will spend another year researching how to do this’. Another scenario may be if a perfectionist would like to lose weight but the weight loss goal seems so far away that it is too hard for them to begin with the small changes. Accountability can be incredibly helpful in these situations as it can propel a perfectionist into action, especially if they respond well to outer expectations. A perfectionist who is wanting to start their own business and is needing that extra push to begin could hire a business coach to hold them accountable each week or fortnight with small achievable goals that can be followed upon. Simply the act of hiring and paying for a coach may be accountability enough to get someone to start. As you can see from these few scenarios, accountability can be a practical and useful tool for getting things done, big and small!
Accountability in coaching can help a client to move further and faster toward their goals and desires if understood and implemented correctly. Accountability is a delicate technique as it must be used appropriately and only when the client has clearly asked for and committed to it. A coach must also be careful so as not to come across as judging or forceful when creating accountability measures. How does a coach identify the usefulness of accountability for a client, and how do they then put it into practice?
As in any coaching session, the coach must clearly understand what is stopping the client from achieving their goals. Is it because they aren’t making themselves a priority? Is it because they keep coming up with excuses to not start? Are they a perfectionist? What are their underlying beliefs behind the goal/s they are trying to achieve? Identifying blockers will help you as the coach to understand what issues need to be addressed and therefore whether accountability will be useful or not for this particular client.
How does your client respond to expectations? Are they likely to be more motivated by external factors or internal ones? Do they fit into Gretchen Rubin’s ‘Obliger’ personality type, where they respond well to external expectations but cannot fulfil internal ones? Would this client respond well to having more or fewer accountability measures in place? What kind of accountability measures is likely to be successful for this individual?
Accountability will only work if the client is fully committed to their goal/s and being held accountable. If they are not committed, not achieving the goal and accountability will not mean anything to them. Having a sense of commitment will help the client to not only want to achieve the goal and take action but will create motivation around accountability.
Not only must the client be committed to their goal/s, but the goals themselves must also be clear and achievable. This will help the client to feel as though success is possible and help them to stay accountable. It is difficult for a client to stay accountable if they do not believe in the goal or feel that they can succeed. This is where it is important to break down larger goals into smaller ones, with short and realistic timeframes. Every time a client completes a goal, they can feel proud and more motivated to complete the next one. This helps to build up a client’s self-esteem.
Once you’ve identified that accountability will be particularly helpful for your client, it is important to have the client create a plan with you around the specific accountability measures. Who is going to hold the client accountable? Will it be best for you to hold them accountable as the coach or for them to incorporate other methods of accountability with their partner, family or friends? Once the person/s have been identified, how frequent will the accountability be? Will it be daily, fortnightly, monthly? There will need to be a delicate balance between giving the client the responsibility and autonomy to achieve their goals on their own, but also have the relevant support they need to hold them accountable. What will the accountability look like? Will it be a text message or phone call to check if the client has done what they said they would do by a certain date? This plan must be designed by the client and not you as the coach so that the client can take full ownership of the accountability plan and hence find it more meaningful.
Rewards & Consequences
Something to consider whilst planning the accountability approach is to think about rewards and consequences and how your client may benefit from either of these. Again, this is something that your client will need to decide on. For me personally, I work very well with having consequences if I don’t follow through on something I’ve said I would do. For example in the past, I have set a goal with a friend to go to the gym a minimum of 3 times in the week. If I didn’t achieve this and only went once or twice, I would owe my friend a drink every week I didn’t get to 3 times. This can work even better when you and the other person are doing the same thing and have the same consequence or reward. There are many ways to use accountability to propel your clients into action and give them that extra level of support that they may be requiring.
This research paper has explored the prevalent concept of accountability and its importance and power in the coaching process. We have discussed the importance of understanding expectations and how a person responds to them in order to see how accountability may help, particularly if a person responds well to outer expectations. We looked at perfectionism and how accountability can help to overcome blockers that perfectionists have when starting new and foreign goals or ones that seem too difficult. Accountability can be applied in the coaching process in many shapes and forms, but irrespective of how, the accountability must be owned by the client for them to succeed and feel responsible. Accountability is a helpful tool that can provide a client with additional support to achieving their goals and dreams.
Better Than Before (2015), Gretchen Rubin