How You Can Use Accountability to Achieve Your Goals

If you have big ideas, great.  If you have turned them into goals, super.  But if you want to make them become real, the question is:  What’s your accountability plan?  Today we’ll talk about accountability and how you can turn it into a powerful tool to help make that goal a reality.


Setting the Conditions

I had a goal to accomplish, and a plan to get there.  But what really helped me get across the line was the accountability piece.  Without it, I am sure I’d still be plodding along, hoping to get there eventually.

The goal was simple but ambitious:  By the 28th of October, six weeks away, design, build, and post an entire online course of at least 20 lessons to help new leaders survive their first leadership experiences.

I seemed to keep running into people who found themselves going through their first leadership experience without any training or preparation.  They had to figure everything out on the fly, and it wasn’t always pretty.  My thinking was that maybe a New Leader Survival Course could help them, so that’s what I set out to build.

It was a good goal – a SMART goal with all the right components:  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

With a clear view of what I wanted to accomplish, the next thing to do was to set the conditions to make sure it happened.  I followed some of the steps I’ve written about earlier to make the dream become a reality.

Write it down.  The act of writing makes something somehow more concrete to us, brings it into being in a way.

Make a schedule.  After learning the process and thinking through the steps, I outlined the course, then set up a production process:

Two weeks of writing, at the rate of two lessons a day

Two weeks of shooting/editing/posting.

Then just to be sure, I added two weeks of “buffer” time for unanticipated snags or stuff I hadn’t figured out yet.  Sooo glad I did that.

Put it on the calendar.   On my Google calendar, I put a big red appointment to myself:  Essential Leadership Skills for the New Manager Course Goes Live.  Then, to help keep on track, I blocked off time each day for what needed to be done.

Going Public

Then I went public.

Having a goal that you have set for yourself is a good start.  And some people have enough internal drive that that’s all they need to motivate them forward.  But for the rest of us, some external pressures to stay on track can be a powerful incentive to keep going.

When you invoke the powers of social pressure and our built-in need to be esteemed by others, you magnify the likelihood that you will actually take action and see your project through to completion.

By going public, we establish accountability, which allows us to tap into these substantial powers and use them to help us get across the line.

Ways to Establish Accountability

Accountability can come from several places; pick one that works best for you.  And to super-charge the power of this approach, set up a network of more than one.

Accountability Partner.  Who’s that one person that you respect and don’t want to disappoint?  Who cares enough about you to look you in the eye and tell you what you need to hear when you start to wander off the path?  Go find them and bring them in on your plans.  Ask them to cheer you along the way, and hold you to your commitments when you start to falter.

Family.  They see you every day.  If they are on board with your goals, they can become a source of encouragement.  Plus, it will be harder to claim you were too busy to make progress on your goal if they saw you watching re-runs of 1980s sitcoms last night.  Better just get to work.

Mentor/Coach.  If you have a mentor, bring them in on your plans; if it is important enough, you can even hire a coach with expertise in the area of your goal.  When you know a smart someone is expecting to hear about the progress you have made, you are more likely to do it (even if it’s running around the night before the next meeting).

The General Public.  If you want to go big, bring the world in on your efforts.  Tell co-workers, class mates, your friends, maybe even the people in line with you at the supermarket checkout.  Some may look at you funny, but you are adding a layer of potential embarrassment if you don’t come through.

Putting Accountability to Work

Once you have your accountability network set up, it’s time to put it to work. 

Set regular check-ins.  Whether it’s a regular thing like a fitness program, or a one-time event like preparing for a marathon, have some routine way to check in. Weekly meetups, phone call, text updates, whatever – set up a regular schedule so your network has a chance to encourage your progress or get you back on track.

Be willing to hear hard truths.  If you have chosen your accountability partner well, they may have important things to tell you that you have to be willing to hear.  So keep your ears open.  If they call you out for ordering another piece of cheese cake when you are supposed to be cutting back, admit that they are right, and tell the waitress to “never mind.”

Make it a competition.  As Tsh suggests over at The Art of Simple one way to add some fun to this is to make a competition out of it.  Whether it’s weight loss progress, or running miles to get ready for a marathon, having someone else to compare and compete with can make the process more enjoyable.

Make it a priority.  If the goal really is important, you have to be ready to give it the priority it deserves.  Set less important things aside so that you can focus on doing the necessary work every day.

Getting Results

For my goal, my family was in on the process from the first day, and dinner conversation usually included an update and an honest assessment of progress (how far I was behind by!).

I also went public by announcing the goal on the regular RapidStartLeadership newsletter updates, asking readers for input, and keeping them posted on progress.

As time went on, delays occurred, life happened, and my planned two week buffer shrank to one week, then just a few days.  It was going to be tight.  To make the timeline, the project had to move up on the priority list.  Sleep a little less, put off the mowing for another day, watch football later.

But finally, at 4:14 AM on the 27th, after an all-night effort, I was able to push the “Submit Course for Review” button that made the course live.  I had met the goal with one day to spare.  And it felt really good.

Accountability – The Takeaway

If you start with a concrete goal, and have a plan to achieve it, you have a strong beginning.  But if you want to improve your chances of having an equally strong ending, use the power of accountability.

By going public with your goal, you allow others to rally around and encourage you.  You also leverage the potency of social approval to help keep moving forward, even when you might have stopped if left to your own devices.

Be sure to build an accountability plan into your next big goal, and see the difference it makes!

Lead on!

Follow this link if you are interested in learning more about the Essential Leadership Skills for the New Manager Course.

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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