Support vs. Challenge - Improve Accountability in Your team - 3

Improve accountability with Support vs. Challenge

You want to improve accountability in your team.

This is the third and final installment of our Leader’s Accountability Guide. Did you miss the first or the second installment in this series? You’ll get more out of this entry if you go back and read those first.

In installment one, we named some common surprises and frequent mistakes that well-intentioned leaders make in trying to improve accountability.

In installment two, we got clarity about Clarity in the Accountability Culture Equation.

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

Clarity established. So now…

Support Second

Once you’ve got clarity, it’s time to assure our people that they’re not on their own. They’ve joined a team. Someone — better yet, everyone — has got their back.

Simon Sinek, in Leaders Eat Last, does a great job of laying out the scientific case for support. He demonstrates, teams will not pull together in places where people do not feel safe, supported, and cared for. In fact, neuro-chemically, people who feel under threat will not be accountable. In order to make it easy to repel threats, their brains will switch into self-protection mode. This is not a choice on their part. It’s not selfishness, not a character flaw. Actually, it’s not really a choice. For the brain of someone who feels unsafe, self-interest is a biological imperative.

Accountability is a state of vulnerability, and people don’t do vulnerability when they’re in danger.

How to Support

Consider this. Support is key to building the trust and a sense of psychological safety. Trust and psychological safety, in turn, are required to inspire accountability.

In other words, support is a prerequisite of accountability. That’s because accountability is a choice to be vulnerable, and a brain that feels under threat will not choose to open-up under a condition of threat. The brain considers that giving the knife to the enemy.

A brain that feels protected, safe, and supported is the only brain free to choose accountability.

In order to create an environment of support, we’ve got to know what that looks like. It includes policies and procedures that acknowledge the humanity of your team. Support requires that you adopt business practices and HR polices that are consistent with the organization’s professed values. (In too many companies, for instance, “TRUST” is listed as a core value. And then the employee handbook is full of policies that belie profound mistrust in the employee — by default.) Support includes everyone on the team looking out for one another and stepping in to help if someone stumbles. In a high-support environment,  leaders give specific praise for a job well done, and constructively crafted suggestions for improvement when needed.

Here are some ways supportive leaders express their support directly to the folks on their team:

  • What are your career goals? How can I help you get there?
  • What are your expectations of me?
  • Do you have what you need? (I may not always be able to give you the tools you want, I always want to know what would help.)
  • I have confidence in you.
  • Let’s make sure we have clarity around the priorities so you know what most needs your attention.
  • Failing happens. Failing is expected. Fail forward.
  • Yesterday’s presentation was far better than last month’s. I can see you took my feedback to heart and improved your slides and your speaking cadence.
  • How’s your family? (You know names, by the way.)
  • What obstacles do you see coming down the pike? How can I help ensure your success?

To be effective in inspiring accountability, support must not be occasional, sporadic, or inconsistent. Effective support is frequent, regular, and consistent. It’s specific. It’s so common as to be the norm. People who’ve been working in a supportive environment learn to expect support. And give it. Support becomes the rule. Like gravity.

Why do we trust gravity implicitly? Because, it’s always there.

Here’s the code of accountability…

When my team and the structures we work within have my back and I know it, then I will readily embrace accountability. 

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

Challenge Third

Relationships built on reliable support can — errm… ah — support a hefty dose of challenge without cracking under the strain. Support helps people to know they belong, that they’re accepted, and that they will not be hung out to dry. And secure in that knowledge, people will accept and welcome challenge that presses them to improve. When supported AND challenged, people willingly reach for levels of excellence, initiative, and productivity they haven’t reached before. They take risks.

In the military, they have a saying for accepting the pain of growth and commitment to purpose. They say, “Embrace the suck.”

When you think back through your life, who are the people — the teachers, coaches, leaders — who made the biggest difference in your life? For me, they’re the people who knew how and when to support me. And they knew how and when to challenge me.

  • They knew I was capable of more. They calmly insisted that I step into that capability.
  • They calmly insisted that my teammates step into the capabilities that their roles required.
  • They invited us to embrace the suck. They insisted… gently and firmly.
  • They did not lower standards to meet us. They lifted us to meet high standards.

That combination of support and challenge fills people with a sense of surety and courage. As a combo, it’s a steady hand on their back, ensuring they don’t fall backward and also that they take the next step forward.

In the context of accountability, what does challenge look like? Challenge includes making it clear that accountability is a requirement for being and remaining on the team.

Requirement? You may be thinking, “But in the first installment of this guide, you said we can’t hold others accountable. It’s a personal choice.”


In an environment of healthy challenge, challenge is often framed in the form of a choice. The choice is between:

  1. Embracing accountability and remaining on the team on the one hand, and
  2. Refusing accountability and allowing the team to move on without you on the other hand.

Do not think, “drill sergeant.” Challenge in the context of support is not about hard, loud edges or emotionality. Think instead, “physical therapist.”

A physical therapist requires that we get uncomfortable. They’re compassionate. And they’re firm.

“I know it hurts. Do it anyway. Just a little further than last time. Now hold it. Hold it a little longer. No. Don’t let up. Good. Now rest.”

Can you imagine the scene with this physical therapist? Read it again. Imagine.

“I know it hurts. Do it anyway. Just a little further than last time. Now hold it. Hold it a little longer. No. Don’t let up. Good. Now rest.”

In your imagination, is the physical therapist angry about the patient’s resistance? Is the PT raising their voice in response to expressions of fear or pain? Is the PT making space for refusal?

Short Story

I remember the physical therapist in the hospital after I’d had surgery on my leg. She insisted on seeing me walk down the hall on crutches. The crutches were easy. Being upright after surgery, on the other hand, not so much. That was very painful.

“You don’t have to do it right now,” she said. “And, I can’t let you go home until you walk all the way down the hall and back. And you have go up and down three stairs. I have to see you do that before we discharge you. You worry about the crutches and the walking. I’ll wheel your IV bag along beside you and make sure you don’t fall.” The choice was mine. I could a) walk and go home where I wanted to be. Or I could, b) refuse to walk and stay in the hospital longer.

Easy choice.

Very difficult walk.

Easy choice.

Total support. Total challenge.

So what does challenge look like in a work leadership situation?

  • This is the standard. Please meet the standard.
  • The gap between your performance and the standard is X. How do you plan to close that gap?
  • I know growth from A to B doesn’t happen overnight. Here’s a timeline by which I’d like to see you reach B.
  • What are your goals? How are you getting in your own way?
  • What is the next step in continuous improvement for us? How will you contribute?
  • You committed to Z. You didn’t deliver Z.
  • You committed to Q. The deadline is coming up. How’s that coming? Please be specific. Are you on schedule?
  • “What would greatness look like right now?” (from Cy Wakeman’s book, No Ego)
  • Gently refuse to take back any “problem” that is theirs to solve. (You can use our smart leader’s SMART model for doing this.)

How can you challenge without degrading support or breaking trust? Challenge in support.

I once heard someone say — and I loved it — “Instead of calling people out, call them UP.”

In the context of support, when I am held to a high standard and challenged to meet it, then I am strongly inclined toward accountability.

How to Improve Accountability In Your Team?

Let’s review.

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

Using clarity and specificity, ensure you and your team are on the same page. Get there by separating the components of accountability.

  1. Responsibility: What’s the job? What are the expectations? What is the standard?
  2. Reliability: Did you do what you said you’d do? Are you delivering on your responsibilities?
  3. Effectiveness: How will we know if you are successful? Did you get the results we were looking for?
  4. Ownership: Are you ready, willing, and able to look for, identify, and own the connection between your actions and the results they delivered.

Next, support people through care, training, expressions of compassion. Be interested in their lives and their goals. Share your confidence in them.

Challenge people to meet a high standard. Ask them to push their capabilities and to be better tomorrow than they are today. Require them to take on new responsibilities, and to own their effective execution.

Successfully inspiring accountability is not about balancing these ingredients one against the other, trying to find that perfect mix. A little more of this… A little less of that.

Accountability, personal fulfillment, and exceptional performance result from marrying clarity, support and challenge. Strive to be high in all three. Extremely clear. Wicked supportive. Highly challenging.

You will love the results. Your team will love you. They’ll love each other. And, they’ll love themselves more.

I’ll leave you with this new equation. Accountability = self love.

The Accountability Culture Formula - Improve Accountability in Your Team - 2

The Accountability Culture Formula

In the first installment of this series on improving accountability on your team, we talked about three surprises. We busted three myths.  And now we’ll look at the “how to” of creating an environment of accountability.

To be entirely too simplistic about it, there’s an Accountability Culture Formula. Leaders who implement this formula create an environment that inspires their team to profound accountability.

Let me be clear. This formula is not correct. Rather, it’s useful. The factors contributing to or degrading accountability culture are entirely too complex to cover exhaustively in a short leader’s guide. Therefore, this formula alone will not get you all the way to a culture of profound accountability.

Fear not! What this Accountability Culture Formula will do — we’ve seen it again and again — is help you come to a breakthrough in accountability among the people on your team. And that breakthrough alone will make a big difference in:

  • your company’s performance metrics 
  • your company’s revenue and profits
  • your company’s talent retention
  • and in your personal quality of life.

And who doesn’t want a better quality of life?

We’ve simplified the interdependent factors that lead to accountability. After all, simplicity leads to action. And this guide is worthless if it doesn’t lead you to action.

So here it is, a simplified accountability culture formula you can put to use today!

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

With the rest of this guide, our aim is to give you insight into the components of this formula. Then, with that insight, you can act to operationalize clarity, support, and challenge. If you embed these components in the way you and your fellow leaders think about your operation, then I promise you a breakthrough in accountability on your team.

Clarity First

Reaching true clarity and mutual understanding is among the greatest challenges for any team. 

And gaps in clarity cost you traction.

The great wit and playwright, George Bernard Shaw, famously quipped, The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

That’s not just funny. It’s also true. For example, how often has someone told you, “Ok, I’ve done task X that you asked me to do.” And when you see their work, you can only think, “That’s not what I meant. That’s not what I asked for.”

Communication is hard. To illustrate this, Peter Drucker told us, “Communication is in what the listener does.” This means, we never truly have control over what we’ve communicated. Once the words leave our lips, our listener hears and interprets. They’re hearing and interpreting through the lens of their own understanding and experience. Their mood and their distractions color their interpretation. They’ve got their own context. And context creates meaning.

To Illustrate

Imagine a gun. Now put it in the hands of an aggressive criminal. That gun takes on a threatening meaning. 

Now take that same gun and put it behind glass in a Museum of Human Ingenuity. Its meaning is entirely changed. 

We leaders must remember that each mind — your mind, your direct report’s mind, your other direct report’s mind — each mind is its own complex context. Each mind receives the same message differently.

Once the message leaves our “email outbox,” we don’t know or control how it will be read or understood.

Therefore, we’ve got to take great care to ensure a high likelihood that what the listener takes from us is the message we’ve intended. As Steve Sims (the Real Life Wizard of Oz) says, “I don’t communicate to be understood. I communicate so it’s impossible that I’ll be misunderstood.”

We must communicate with thoroughness and precision.

To that end, let’s define some terms.

Clarity on Accountability 

Accountability means different things to different people. Heck, it means different things to the same people in different moments.

When you ask someone to, “be accountable,” you know what you mean. They think they know what you mean. Chances are very good, however, that your intended message and their perception of your message are not the same. You’re using the same word, but when you investigate one layer deeper, you’re likely not on the same page.

In fact, you’re not only on different pages about whether they’re accountable or not. You’re not even on the same page about what “accountable” means in this context.

Conflict ensues. Or people bury their feelings. Disagreement is hidden and resentment builds. And resentment degrades relationships — and performance. 

It can be hard regain the trust you’ve lost in one another.

What happens to trust in the context of misunderstanding and mistrust?

As a leader, you no longer have trust in their willingness to be responsible, honest, and forthright. And they no longer trust you to be fair, to have their back, to employ reason in your assessment of their performance.

Without repair, this marks the beginning of the end of a healthy relationship.

The Accountability Culture Formula-Within-the-Formula

Accountability — the great white light of responsible action in a relationship. Honesty, integrity, it’s the holy grail of employee characteristics. Without accountability, there can be no trust. There can be no confidence. There can be no transparency and teamwork.

 Agreed. And…

Accountability is white light indeed. It is illuminating. There’s a kind of purity to it. It sheds light into the dark places in our relationships and in our companies. And like white light, accountability is actually made of different components. 

We’d better define accountability.

Better yet, let’s break it down into its constituent parts.

When you break down actual white light, you reveal the rainbow’s colors — ROYGBIV. Accountability — at least the kind we want in our workplaces — is also a combination of components.


R: Responsibility = What is your job? 

The first ingredient of accountability is RESPONSIBILITY. Without clarity of what’s expected from your people, they will deliver what they believe is expected.

A team member’s responsibilities include (and are certainly not limited to) their job description. Responsibility is the sum total of what’s expected from you in your role. It’s those expectations that have been laid out for you in writing and verbally. And, unfortunately, it’s also all those things that are “common sense” and go without saying. 

Thing is… Nothing goes without saying. And everything worth saying is worth repeating.

You will have to repeat yourself if you want your team to clearly understand and remember their responsibilities. Period. 

I know, you want to say something once, and have your team take it up. I know you feel like a broken record when you have to say the same things over and over again. I know that what I’m suggesting here flies in the face of the leadership conventional wisdom that we all learned growing up. Whenever they had to repeat themselves, our teachers told us, “I’m not here talking for my health.”

When you accept that repetition is simply a part of great leadership, that our human brains retain that which is repeated, that repetition is a signal to the brain of importance (and that our brains interpret something not often repeated as not important), your frustration at having to repeat yourself will ease. Just like you’re not frustrated by the need to repeatedly brush your teeth.

Repetition is maintenance.

A leader’s responsibilities include clarifying and re-clarifying the responsibilities of those in their care.

You’ll have to iteratively spiral in on mutual understanding of what the responsibilities are of those on your team.

And every time the job responsibilities shift, there’ll be a new gap in clarity you’ll have to iteratively narrow. 

In order to inspire accountability, you need clarity around responsibilities.

R: Reliability = Do you do what you say you’re going to do?

RELIABILITY is the second ingredient of accountability. It’s every person’s job responsibility to track the commitments they’ve made and to honor those commitments. 

If I’ve told you, “I’ll bring you a red X by Wednesday at 3PM,” that’s a complex commitment.

To demonstrate reliability, I’ve got to do all of:

  • Have an X for you. A Y is not an X. I committed to an X, so nothing else will do. Not even an x.
  • Ensure it’s red. I told you it’d be red. A green one will not do. Green may be just as good to serve the purpose. Because it’s not consistent with the commitment, it does not reflect reliability.
  • Bring the X to you. If I have the X at my desk, I’m not done. I committed to bringing it to you.
  • Be on time! I told you it’d be done by Wednesday at 3PM. That’s part of what I said I was going to do. To be true to my word, timeliness is part of reliability.


  • Renegotiate. None of us can deliver every one of our commitments every time. The reliable among us will notify, renegotiate, consult about alternatives in advance of the deadline. A reliable person will communicate as soon as it seems remotely likely that there may be a problem with delivering 1) an X 2) that’s red 3) to you 4) on time.

You need clarity with your team around the expectation for reliability. Define what reliability means and that reliability is a responsibility. And you’ll need to recognize — out loud — both reliability that you see from your team — and its absence — every chance you get.

Of note, your team is reliable far more often than they are not, even the lowest performing among them. Ensure your feedback reflects that.

E: Effectiveness = Are you getting the results you intended?

EFFECTIVENESS is the third ingredient of accountability. As a leader, you’ll be more effective when you delegate the desired outcome (accomplish this result) rather than the means or method for getting there (do exactly this, like this). Either way, to be effective as a leader, you must impart to your team the desired outcome of the task, even if you’re also assigning the means.

If you and your people don’t have mutual understanding (in advance) of what results mark success, how will you come to an agreement about whether success was reached or not?

You need clarity around desired outcomes and how they compare to actual outcomes. You need clarity, that is, around what effective looks like.

Have you clearly outlined together, what will be the metrics of success? Once you have, you’ll be able to objectively assess together — minimizing the chances for destructive conflict — whether or not you’re looking at a successful effort. Clarity eliminates the need for judgment.

Effectiveness is. Or effectiveness is not. And the margin — the excess or the shortfall — can be measured. And corrective action can be planned.

O: Ownership = Are you willing and able to own a relationship between your actions and your outcomes?

When you take OWNERSHIP (ingredient four), you commit that it’s your responsibility to:

  • Ensure you have clarity on what your responsibilities are
  • Commit to your job responsibilities — fully and without secret reservation
  • Deliver and communicate on your commitments
  • Look at your results and compare them honestly to the desired outcomes
  • Make connections between your results and what you did — for better or for worse
  • Make adjustments to the actions you take going forward in order to close any gaps between the desired outcomes and your actual results

Ownership is a key and critical component of accountability because it is possible to know our responsibilities, be reliable to do what we said we were going to do, and still not be effective. Failing happens. The question of ownership is whether you blame circumstances or whether you embrace the truth. As Cy Wakeman puts it in her book, No Ego, “Your circumstances are the reality in which you must succeed.”

Why do some people fail and others succeed in the same circumstances with the same skills?


Only when one owns their influence on their outcomes will they adjust their strategy and tactics in order to achieve better outcomes.

Supposedly, Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” That he never said it doesn’t matter. It’s not true anyway.

What’s true is that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a symptom of a lack of ownership. 

Once you embrace the reality of your circumstances… When you commit to adjusting yourself to unchangeable reality rather than excusing failures (past and future) because of circumstances… Then and only then are you fully accountable and therefore capable of achieving ever greater effectiveness.

Ownership Makes Iteration Inevitable

Remember the potential exists that people can renegotiate the shared understandings between them and come to new ones.

Responsibilities may change. 

For example, we worked with the leaders of a company where a top performer was failing to meet some of his job responsibilities. He not good at taking notes and reporting on his activity and outcomes. The sales leader and CEO were both frustrated that this top-performing sales person was neglecting an important part of his job. Therefore, leaders in the org agonized over whether to keep him.

Even though keeping records of his activity was Ryan’s responsibility, he was unreliable in meeting this obligation. And Ryan was also ineffective at it. When he did take notes, they were hard to follow and didn’t add much value to the organization. Ryan’s ADHD made this responsibility tough for him because the challenge was hard-wired. His reliability and effectiveness with record-keeping were therefore unlikely to change, even with great intention and effort. 

The solution, hidden in, “this is how we’ve always done it,” was simple. The company accommodated Ryan’s neurodiversity. Someone else in the company who was great at note-taking interviewed him about his activity once a day and took cogent notes in the CRM. Together, they were very quick, thorough, and effective.

In other words, they renegotiated Ryan’s responsibilities.

After that change of responsibility, Ryan became nearly 100% reliable. He met all the expectations that his leaders now had for him. His sales performance — already excellent — improved. So did his overall accountability.

Other folks may buck the system — the responsibilities — for completely different reasons. Some people are not reliable to the system, but are reliable to the results. They’re effective without being reliable. We call these people Mavericks

You have to decide for yourself whether you’re willing to tolerate Mavericks on your team. 

We have a soft-spot in our hearts for Mavericks at The Yes Works (most of us kind of lean that way ourselves). That said, you cannot allow Mavericks to run roughshod over their responsibilities and still expect to have a culture of accountability.

You’ll need to have a frank conversation. You’ll have to negotiate with them to devise a set of responsibilities that work for you both.

In other words, if you want the results a Maverick can deliver without compromising your team’s culture of accountability, then you must renegotiate the Maverick’s responsibilities.

Story Time

A friend who was a president’s club sales rep for a Fortune 1000 company was required by policy to be in the office to make sales calls every day at 8am. This chaffed for him. He often didn’t do it. Because, he said, it meant his day was less productive. He couldn’t make as many sales.

He had to waste time in driving to and from the office that was better spent driving to and from prospects’ offices.

So there was a constant tension between him and his boss and between him and his peers who didn’t sell as much as he did — and who were at their desks every day at 8am.

What his boss finally did was to change the responsibilities for sales reps — not just for my president’s club friend.

Anyone with sales under $X in the previous quarter was required to be at their desks at 8am. Anyone over $X had demonstrated they had a system that worked better for them, and so they were given greater latitude to bring in the business their own way.

Accountability came back into integrity in the office because Mr. President’s Club — the Maverick — was now reliable to his responsibilities, and ALSO effective.

If others wanted the same latitude he had, they knew how to earn it.

Clarity + Support + Challenge = Accountability Culture

In this second installment, we’ve covered clarity. Next time, we’ll get into Support and Challenge. And the equation will be complete. You’ll be ready to build a sustainably and thoroughly accountable team.

Why’s that matter?

With profound accountability, your company can take a leap in capacity almost overnight with the resources you have now.


Coming soon…

(This was installment 2 in this series on creating an Accountability Culture. See here for the first installment about three surprises about Improving Accountability in Your Team. Next, we’ll have a look at both support and challenge. We” investigate how they work in concert to free the brains of the people on your team to outsource self-interest so they can focus on contribution and communication so your company can surpass it’s current capacity.)

How to improve accountability in your team

Improve Accountability in Your Team - 1

"How can I improve accountability in my team?" That's the question we get again and again. Sometimes that question comes in different words. And when we dig in, we often find this is the question underneath.

Looking for Accountability in Your Team

A breakthrough in accountability on your team could become your company's unfair advantage.

Therefore, everybody wants one. Few leaders get one.

It's one of the most common woes of leaders all over the world. "I want more accountability on my team."

In short, improving accountability in your team is mission critical. If you can't count on your people to get stuff done, and done well, then you don’t have a team. And if you're not getting stuff done better tomorrow than you did today, then you can forget growing. And you can forget having a sustainable company. Sooner or later entropy will beat you.

Good news...

Accountability is the antidote to entropy.

Like the antidote in any action movie, it’s do or die. And, accountability -- profound accountability -- is hard to come by.

Which leads us to why. Why’s it so hard to get accountability from your team at every level of your organization? After all, you’re accountable.

The Accountability Surprises

Leaders who work with us encounter three big surprises about driving team accountability.

2. You may be inadvertently (but clearly) telling your team that, “Accountability is not a job requirement.”

3. Modeling accountability is not enough to inspire accountability in others.

1. You cannot hold someone else accountable.

The second biggest surprise:

In effect, if there’s a persistent shortage of accountability somewhere on your team, you’re almost certainly sending out a message you don't want to send. And you're sending it loud and clear.

For instance, you’ve seen this pattern. Someone on the team chooses not to be accountable. That choice costs that person nothing. That choice "worked out." The person repeats it. Again, it costs nothing. It worked out again. Behavior reinforced.

The message you’re sending, "Accountability is not a job  requirement."

In other words -- and this may sting a little -- if your team is persistently unaccountable, then you are not being accountable.

Pointedly, you get what you tolerate. Chronic accountability gaps are a sure sign that leaders are tolerating accountability gaps. If you want a breakthrough in accountability on your team, then you will have to embrace accountability to ensuring accountability

Lee Cockerell, former EVP of Ops at Disney World, illustrated this idea in a story he told me.

Story time

Lee had been the Director of Food and Beverage at a Marriott Hotel. It was summer. And not surprisingly, there were lots of flies buzzing around the dumpster. Some few of those flies made their way through corridors of the hotel to the restaurant.

When Lee gave a tour of the facilities to Bill Marriott, the two of them came to the dumpster.

“If you have flies in your operation,” Mr. Marriott said to Lee, “you must like flies.”

Admittedly, flies will be flies. That’s true. And flies like trash. And hotel restaurants generate lots of food waste. So flies at the dumpster is no surprise.

And still, if you’re dedicated to a restaurant without flies, with effort and ingenuity -- with commitment -- you can have a fly-free restaurant. Lee took the lesson that, “If I’m getting results I don’t like, it’s up to me to do something about it.”

To Improve Accountability on Your Team

I don't want my analogy to be too abstract to be plain. Do you see an accountability gap on your team? Then there's a greater level of responsibility you can take on to help get you there.

Think for a moment of your least accountable team members. If they’re permitted to not choose accountability without challenge or consequence, this let’s them, “off the hook.” And it doesn’t serve them. In fact, it leaves them stuck, arguing for their own limitations. And it leaves you stuck with a post that’s filled with a poor performer, cementing the longevity of mediocrity.

Critically, for your most accountable team members, seeing non-accountability around them builds resentment. Accountable people want to be recognized and appreciated and rewarded for their performance. They value meeting challenges and overcoming them over comfort. They don’t want to see equal rewards going to people who aren’t putting in the effort and the risk that comes with accountability.

Furthermore, they want to be challenged by the environment. There's fulfillment for our most accountable team members in being challenged to grow still more skill and more accountability. (Truth is, that's where fulfillment lies for people who resist accountability as well.)

Unaccountable people feel comfortable in environments where accountability isn’t a job requirement. So they stay.

By unfortunate contrast, Accountable people become uncomfortable and unhappy. So they leave.

As a result, the team slowly becomes less and less accountable overall. One at a time, you replace accountable people and behaviors with unaccountable ones. You’re in a crushing feedback loop of doom. You're unrecruiting.

The third biggest surprise:

Modeling is not enough.

Leaders we work with tell us, “I keep showing them what accountability looks like. I demonstrate it every day.” They ask , “Why don’t my people follow my lead?”

One CEO recently asked, “Why don’t they get it? It’s common sense!”

The truth is, there’s no such thing as common sense. Common sense comes from common experience, and no two of us truly have that.

If you want accountability from the people on your team, yes, you must model accountability. When you're not accountable, you’ll be seen as a hypocrite for insisting on accountability from others.

And, modeling alone won’t get the job done.

For instance, your people don't all speak exactly the same way you do. You use the word, "ain't." They don't. Likewise, your team won't necessarily pick up your behaviors of accountability simply because you model those behaviors.

The single biggest surprise:

What surprises many intentional and conscientious leaders most is this.

You cannot hold someone else accountable.

Accountability is a personal and an individual choice.

We leaders can ask others to be accountable. We can invite them to join us in accountability. And others look to us to draw inspiration. Inspire others to embrace accountability.

What we cannot do is force the issue.

We’re faced with the famous horse adage, “You can lead a horse to water.” Drinking… Choosing accountability… That’s out of our hands.

In fact, try to force someone into accountability, and you’ll earn more resistance than success.

In the next installment of "Improve Accountability in Your Team," I'll introduce the not-magic formula you can employ to create an accountability breakthrough in three months or less.


Follow this link for the second installment of our Accountability Culture Guide, or contact us today to ask for the whole guide all at once.

On Fire

MGW #24 - How To Fire People

download this episode here

MGW #24 -  How To Fire People

Welcome back to the newly relaunched Mighty Good Work with your hosts Aaron Schmookler, Co-founder and Trainer of The Yes Works and Kristin Adams, Co-director of Startup Grind and first time founder of ALL2.  Last episode we discussed shifting both the thought process surrounding, dialogue about and facilitation of people quitting their jobs and this episode we are focused on the other side of that equation - how to fire people compassionately.  

While one might think that goes without saying, you’d be surprised what still occurs in the workplace on the regular.  As a podcast dedicated to leaders and aspiring leaders who insist that work should be good, even in the toughest of circumstances, we’d argue that a refresher course is in order.

There's a common saying in the startup world the one great hire and the one great fire.  Both are inevitable milestones – rites of passage in one’s career, if you will – so knowing what you should and should not do is pretty key. 

Firing DOs:

  • Healthy company cultures champion continuous performance improvement
    • PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans) used solely as a means to document and justify dismissal are not typically effective in managing an under-performing individual back to successful contributors 
    • Timely communication, immediate feedback, resetting clear expectations and outlining consequences in the moment are key; summarize and document for the benefit of both parties to follow through
    • Open and encourage dialogue that helps get to the root cause of the performance issue (i.e. not having access to the right tools, inefficient processes, unrealistic expectations, improper staffing, lack of skills or interest, personal issues or life events, etc.) – some may be overcome, others not but determining that together can facilitate a smooth/mutual exit 
    • Individuals being fired for cause should know well in advance of the actual termination because of the open and frank discussion leading up it
  • Pre-plan and coordinate the timing of both the internal and external communication/messaging
    • Put it in writing and practice what you are going to say to the individual (i.e. don’t wing it/ad lib)
    • Cut to the chase – no need for a long preamble; start with the statement and acknowledge the difficulty of the situation (NOT how hard this is for you)
    • De-personalize the situation.  Keep the focus on the big picture and if you do say something off-script, stop (apologize if warranted) and come back to topic 
    • Be authentic; if it makes sense to acknowledge their positive contributions, say they will be missed, etc. – do it
    • Explain what happens next
  • Keep it conversational 
    • Let them speak, ask questions – stick to your speaking points, do not argue the details/circumstances leading up to, etc.
    • Discuss what they are looking for in their next job, provide constructive direction advice if asked
  • Be their advocate to the extent it makes sense
    • Most terminations are rooted in some kind of disconnect (skills, pace, life circumstances, etc.).  This does not make them a bad employee – just the wrong fit
  • Be generous when possible 
    • Severance, extension of benefits, etc.
    • Ensure they get home (or to their preferred destination) safely (pay for car service, call friend or family to pick up, etc.)

Firing DON’Ts:

  • DON'T fire on a Friday or the end of the day, ideally early in the week around lunch hour
    • Gives the individual the weekend to feel miserable, stew, get angry without recourse (i.e. puts them in a holding pattern until the following workweek)
    • Gives time for the rumor mill to churn whereas a firing followed by a full work week provides the ability to ask questions and return/adjust to the new routine
  • Take security precautions but DON’T perp walk if not necessary
    • Stakes are higher than letting one person go; the performance of remaining employees often suffers if the message/statement being made is one of fear and/or reprisal
    • Preserve the individual’s dignity; embarrassment breeds resentment & fuels gossip
    • Give the individual a choice about when/how they want to collect personal effects, the option to do so without an audience
    • Give the individual an option to say goodbye
  • DON’T hide out after you’ve fired someone 
    • Take time to compose yourself if needed but be present, be visible, engage others – show you CARE
    • Make yourself available for questions, concerns – allowing folks to process/vent will prevent other negative outcomes
  • DON’T call a company meeting for the sole purpose of announcing the departure
  • DON’T burn bridges, especially in today’s connected world

While today’s topic doesn’t seem to align with workplace happiness, the fact is that as tough as it might be in the moment, the outcomes are usually quite positive.  When handled correctly and with compassion, firing an individual can lead to happier people – both the employees who remain with the company and those who left in their new 

Folks, thank you so much for your time and attention. If you have questions, want to argue the merit of anything we’ve proposed today, have other ideas to contribute, etc. – we are happy to engage as long as the gloves don't come off. ☺ 

Kristin Adams:

Aaron Schmookler:

This has been Mighty Good Work and you are mighty good folks for joining us. Thanks for listening.


MGW #23 - How to Retain Talent

download this episode here

MGW #23 - How to Retain Talent

Welcome to the Mighty Good Work relaunch. The focus hasn’t changed – this is still a podcast for people who want to make work a place worthy of the time we dedicate to it and for leaders and aspiring leaders who are committed to inspiring the same.  We’ve tweaked the format, including a permanent new co-host, in the hopes of adding diversity of viewpoints, experience and topics for the benefit of our listeners.  We are excited to share version 2.0 with you and on that note, let’s get started!

In this episode we focus on shifting both the thought process surrounding, dialogue about and facilitation of people quitting their jobs. With tenure averaging 18-24 months (and dropping), if you're thinking about why and how people leave their jobs in the right way, you have an opportunity to actually do something to retain your best and brightest longer.

Conventional wisdom is that people leave their jobs – having outgrown the role.  The latest data would tell you that people leave people, more specifically, their managers.  We contend that this is not an either/or situation, but rather people leave “bad experiences” and as such leaders must address the issue more holistically.

  • If you think about a workplace version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, successful leaders fulfill those needs by creating a sense of community, providing opportunity for development and growth and communicating the value of their employees’ contributions.
  • Recognition, appreciation and critical feedback are key to how people interpret their experience (i.e. positive or negative), growth (i.e. improvement or stagnation of work product/process) and contribution (i.e. perceived importance of), making all three critical parts of the feedback loop.
  • An oft cited reason for leaving is a lack of meaningfulness/purpose in their work.  Find ways to tangibly connect individual contributions to outcomes.
  • Strong leaders think big picture and balance methodology with results.  Do physical butts in seats matter if objectives are being met?  When is it ok to make process allowances if outcomes are achieved?  Conversely, when is it not?  
  • We all have fear based reactions at times but how we address those slips matter.  A private apology may not be sufficient, as public acknowledgment goes a long way towards demonstrating a commitment to the company’s mission and values.
  • Promotions to management positions should not be made lightly.  Tenure and the ability to perform hard skills consistently at an individual contributor level are not sufficient.  Introducing an unskilled/unsupported manager into your ecosystem can quickly lead to employee unhappiness and subsequent turnover. 
  • Contrary to conventional wisdom, people do not necessarily have to be good at specific hard skills – be it writing code, accounting or creating content – to be leaders.  Recognize the ability to communicate vision and strategy and give those folks opportunities to lead/influence. 
  • Don’t be so quick to dismiss the first-alerters – those you might chalk up to being hyper-sensitive or whiners.  They often can signal early warning signs of problems that if addressed at that point won’t manifest as bigger issues.
  • Strong leaders do not think in terms of a static employment contract, but rather on that allows for change over time.  As employees’ lives evolve, what they need from work to support those changes also evolves.  If the role or the company’s needs do not allow for that, then understanding those limitations and being prepared to gracefully facilitate that transition is key.
  • Strive for better than average tenue.  Nobody goes into a relationship with a predetermined end date in mind. You wouldn’t accept average product/service quality, sales results, etc. so investing in the things that keep your people engaged longer is just good business.  Find ways to measure and improve.

How you handle attrition factors into retention, as this communicates/models how others can expect to be treated.  While it may seem counterintuitive, a common recurring theme revolves around the exit.   

  • Depersonalize the situation.  Whether viewed as good or bad attrition, neither should it be viewed as an act of betrayal nor an opportunity to malign.  Your ability to facilitate genuine, amicable separations and relay that to your staff will strongly factor into others’ decisions to stay or go.  
  • Exit interviews – the ability to give someone a chance to be heard – are important.  Better to get the information first-hand and be able to address it head-on rather than via social media or open forums (Blind, Glassdoor, etc.). 
  • Strong leaders should view every employee exit as a way to create an ambassador of goodwill.  You never know where paths will intersect, whether as a boomerang employee, advocate, customer, or partner.  The ability to reengage with someone years later is a good litmus test of a successful exit.  

Empathy Without the Pity Party Pitfall

Empathy is a relatively new buzzword in discussions of corporate leadership. And it’s a good thing.

Without empathy, leaders cannot profoundly effect employee engagement, motivation, and performance. With empathy, they can.

Empathy alone can be disastrous.

It’s important to be able to relate to one another’s feelings, to understand where one another is coming from, and to be able to predict what stimuli may lead to what responses.

Without other emotional intelligence ingredients, empathy can lead us to a pity party. I know what you mean. And, I feel for you. Moreover, I feel your pain. Of course these circumstances are hard. Those statements lead to connection. Left alone, they can lead to inaction and ineffectiveness.

And… Empathy + commitment to purpose = compassion.

Check out this video.


Compassion is a key element of successful high-performing culture. And culture shapes and defines the destiny of your company. Adeptability Training helps build leadership habit that supports communication, collaboration, and innovation. And fun. Book a call today.

How can you boost your company’s profits by an average of 24%? HR Magazine says spending $1600 per employee can do just that.

Where to focus your training efforts

The present matters. And largely, it’s taking care of itself. The future of your firm relies on innovation. Not necessarily innovation with a capital “I”. It could be that you simply need a steady flow of micro-innovations. Certainly, without a doubt, change and adaptation are a more and more salient obligation for any company wishing to be around next year and the year after that.
In their recent blog, Exago observed, “Fostering trust and collaboration, the building blocks to creating a culture of ongoing innovation, is a key part of the innovation leadership role.”

When to start deliberate work on team dynamics

You may have been thinking about how to further improve dynamics on your team, improve communication and collaboration effectiveness. And you’ve likely been putting it off because of all the pressing projects and deliverables on your docket.
This is one of the easiest things to put off, and you cannot afford to do that.
Team culture, team effectiveness, teaming skill… Pays dividends.
You’re losing talent. At what rate, of course, you know better than I do. 85% of the workforce are dissatisfied with their jobs. Ouch! Who says? Gallup’s poll of 2017.
If you’re reading this blog, then you’re clearly among the top few leaders who’re deliberately and actively improving things. So, your team is likely more satisfied at work than the average. And, even if only 20% are dissatisfied, that’s still a painfully large number.
Those folks are not only more likely to leave their jobs. They’re also killing the vibe in your workplace. They’re increasing the likelihood that their team mates are becoming or will become dissatisfied as well. And they’re anti-enthusiasm creates a social pressure against enthusiasm among others.

It’s a vicious cycle.

And every day you wait to begin is a day you delay reaping the rewards. And not just… The heights you could reach by investing today you will never reach if you put off the investment until tomorrow.

Why? Ask Albert Einstein. He called compound interest “the eighth wonder of the world.” And he wisely said…

He who understands it, earns it. He who doesn’t, pays it.
Take 2.5 minutes to watch this video.
The time to take action is today. Or at the latest, tomorrow.
If you’re ready to start investing and taking advantage of the power of compound interest, let’s talk.

To Succeed In Change Management, Take a Lesson From the Kite

“The only thing that is constant is change.”

— Heraclitus


If change is so constant, why do we suck at change management so badly? Right now around the country, change initiatives are failing by the dozen. A few of these initiatives fail because they are ill conceived notions. A few fail because they’re poorly planned.

Most fail because of execution. The idea is good. The plan is good. And, somehow, the change just doesn’t happen.

With a good idea and even a half-decent plan, it stands to reason, a change initiative should succeed. So what happens in the execution to scuttle a change effort?


“Here we go again.”

“This’ll never work.”

“I don’t want to.”

“We’ve always done it this way.”

“We tried that in 1983.”

When people say these things, it’s an expression of the fear of uncertainty. We’ve all got that fear. The difference between those of us who resist change and those of us who charge ahead is how we manage that fear, and how we approach the thinking part of the change management puzzle.


As leaders of change, it’s our job to support people to embrace what scares them. It’s up to us to help them respond healthfully and think constructively in response to uncertainty — so they can manage their fear and perform.

Change management is not about battering people into submission, and it’s not about coddling them and allowing them to let fear rule the day.

The people side of change management is about setting expectations, and holding consistent and high standards with compassion.

So, here’s a simple tool you can employ to help guide people through a high-performance change execution.

I call it…


The simple kite is a very resilient operator. It can fly in a wide range of wind speeds. It can weather the gusts. If the wind switches, it shifts. Quick, easy, the kite doesn’t complain. And it twitches and wobbles only momentarily before regaining its equilibrium.

A lot people think that the purpose of a kite string is to keep the kite from flying away. Nope. If the kite had no string, then even in ideal wind conditions, it wouldn’t fly at all. If the string breaks, the kite falls.

The purpose of the string is to anchor the kite to make flight possible.

It’s this anchor point that allows the kite to keep its head in the winds of change. It permits the kite to make its quick shifts, to bob and weave. The anchor point gives it the ability to maintain an attitude of flight whatever happens.

So what can we learn from the simple kite about change management?


Don’t tell people only what will change. Change arouses fear and anxiety. And the fear of uncertainty can interfere with people’s equilibrium and their productivity.

Tell people also what will stay the same. When you tell people about what they can count on, you quiet some of those alarm bells. The constant that you tell them about can already be obvious and still be effective for helping people face the change. There’s nothing that’s too obvious that it goes without saying.

Telling people what will stay the same — what’s dependable — gives them that kite-string anchor-point that allows them to maintain an attitude of flight.


“Even with all the change we’re going through, I’m going to remain your direct supervisor.”

“Even though we are going through a major reorganization, our mission, vision, and values will not change. We’ll continue to strive for the same culture of transparency we have now. You’ll continue to do the same job you do now, and the company will be able to support you better in your role.”


Nothing is too obvious because the Kite Principle is not necessarily about telling people things they don’t know. It’s not just about the information. It’s also simply about the neuro-chemical response to change, and managing that brain chemistry.

“Hey folks, we’re changing things.” Boom. The brain is flooded with the stress chemical cortisol. Performance declines.

Tell people what anchor they can count on. You can even tell them, “The sun will rise in the morning, and gravity will remain constant. And, you will have the same ergonomic chair to sit in tomorrow and the day after that.”

Hearing even these painfully obvious things can help to reduce cortisol levels and improve performance.

So, next time you announce a change — no matter how small — also announce the constants. Thanks to this little-known secret of change management, you’ll hear fewer objections. Fewer people will drag their feet. Your change executors will draw strength from that anchor, and it’ll be the best executed change initiative you’ve ever been a part of.


Communication and collaboration are some of the hardest things to get right in any company culture, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you add more people to the team. Adeptability Training gets teams communicating and collaborating effectively as a matter of habit and mindset. Book a call today.

Help me leadership development hotline

A Leadership Development Tool for an Independent Problem-Solving Team

People often undermine their own leadership development by looking to established leaders for help solving problems that they can solve on their own. It’s a part of human nature, and a personal-risk mitigation play. “If I ask the boss for the solution, I won’t be responsible for any failure.” Put another way, “I won’t get it wrong.”

Usually, that’s an unconscious process. Consciously, it’s much more like, “I’m not sure how to solve this. I bet Boss does.”

The way we respond as leaders will determine the future of our team’s performance.

Here’s a tool that will help insure that your people will grow, improve, learn, and lead in their own right. It’ll free you up and leverage your experience so you’re enabling greatness at all levels of your organization.

It’s leadership development gold.

The Problem

Change happens. Surprises arrive. Problems arise. As leaders, our own response to the fear of uncertainty is often to step in. Take it on. Offer our opinion. Tell folks what to do. Control the situation.

Sometimes this deep executive involvement leads to a better resolution of the problem — not always. Almost always, it leads to an undesirable outcome. Instead of breeding confidence, capability, and independence, this style of leadership leads to dependence and self-doubt, and inhibits learning in our direct reports. It retards the leadership development of our team distracts us from the higher-level work we could be doing.

Here’s a valuable alternative.

The SMART Model

SMART is — I admit — a cheesy acronym — The cheese helps you remember, because if you don’t remember, you won’t do it.

So… The SMART Model.

S – Slow down. Giving them the answer may be quicker in the short run, and it will insure that you’d approve of the solution. It’ll also insure that they remain dependent on you for all their problem solving needs. This step is critical because by slowing down, you create the possibility of solving YOUR problem. The problem that people are coming to you. Giving them the answer is the easy thing. It’s addressing the symptom rather than the root cause.


M – Make it theirs. Try something like, “You’ve got a problem? Thank you for identifying that problem before it got out of hand. Keep me posted on your progress.” This communicates not only that you view the problem as theirs, but also that your expectation is that they’ll solve it on their own. You even seem to think they must only be informing you, because of course they’re not expecting you to bale them out.


A – Ask. Before they go, ask if they’ve considered this variable or that factor. Ask what resources they intend to employ. Ask to be kept in the loop. That way, you insure they’re thinking about the things you want them to be thinking about.


R – Reflect. Reflect some of what your experience has taught you. “Look out for this. Be sure to get input from here. When we did X once before, Y happened.” By reflecting your experience, you give them the benefit of your expertise in a way that supports their autonomy instead of usurping it. And they learn to think of you as a resource for learning rather than solutions.


T – Trust their judgment. At first, their solutions may not be as good as yours. Trust them to be good enough. You didn’t hire no fools. If their initial solutions are 75-80% as good as yours, you’re still ahead because your time is better leveraged doing the things only you can do. And as they learn and gain confidence by acting with autonomy, they’ll become more and more valuable to the team as their skills grow. And soon, their solutions will be better than yours. That’s the inevitable outcome of sound leadership development.

Your Challenge

Each leader faces their own challenge with one or more of these steps.

Some (like me) get impatient out of the gate. We don’t want to slow down. Giving the answer is so quick. Today. Tomorrow, when someone comes back again for our solution to a problem they can solve, it’ll be quicker again to give them the answer. And those times add up.

Giving over the problem to someone else is hard for some of us. Relinquishing that control opens up a world of uncertainty. Finding the questions to ask that help lead our people to their own best thinking is an advanced skill. Reflecting our experience without handing them the answer is also a fine distinction. And it gives others some of the power we’ve fought hard over a career to build up.

And Trust… Trust is a doozy for a lot of folks. “Prove yourself, and I’ll trust you,” we say. Problem is, no one can prove themselves if we don’t invest our trust in them in the first place. Trust is a verb. Extend it. Feel it later, when your people reward your trusting them by delivering results.

The Leadership Development ROI

Expect big things. Demand greatness. Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown — world renowned leadership development experts — call leaders who are willing to build the capacity of those around them “multipliers.” In their HBR article, “Managing Yourself: Bringing Out the Best in Your People,” They observed, “Under the leadership of these “multipliers,” employees don’t just feel smarter, they become smarter.”

The people on your team are smart. And you’re smart too. With a SMART leadership response to people who come ask you to solve problems for them, everyone’s smarts will soon be working full strength to help advance your company.


Leadership behavior shapes and defines culture. Culture shapes and defines the destiny of your company. Adeptability Training helps build leadership habit that supports communication, collaboration, and innovation. And fun. Book a call today.