Four Ways to Be Accountable

A client of mine, a professional hockey player, impressed me recently by practicing in real life what I call the Four Levels to be Accountable. This superb athlete had experienced several games in a row in which he felt as though his team’s performance, as well as his own, was below potential. This is what he told me:

“I’m one of the leaders on this team and I need to do better. It’s not like I’ve been slacking—in fact, I’m busting my butt. But the truth is, I need to be doing more—and I can do more. I’m at ninety to ninety-five percent of my potential, but it hasn’t been enough. For the first time since I can remember, I got a pretty stiff message from the coaches. I didn’t like to hear it, but I won’t argue. I need to respond with more effort.”

Whether in the business world or in the sports arena, accountability is knowing and doing what needs to be done. No excuses, just execution. It’s human nature to have a good excuse when we come up short. I’ve done it—we all do it.

But an excuse is the antithesis of accountability. An excuse is akin to closing the door on self-improvement. On the other side of that door are all the ways you can do better, be better, and become masterful and more fulfilled.

Instead of making excuses for coming up short, this is what the professional athlete did to boost his performance.

Personal Accountability

The first person you need to be accountable to is yourself. For the next two weeks, the player wrapped two bands of tape on his stick. One band had the words 100% Focus and Intensity. This was his product goal for the next two week—to improve his intensity in practices and games from an 8 to a 10.

The second band of tape had the letter V. V isn’t for victory; it stands for the act of visualizing—visualizing for 3-5 seconds, with intensity and focus, the success that he and his coaches desired in the next game or practice.

Peer Accountability

On a sports team or work team, you need to be accountable to your peers. This hockey player called a team meeting in which games. Notice that he didn’t call his teammates out, but rather let them know of his own intentions.

Coach, Boss, Mentor Accountability

As you’re setting out to improve your performance, make sure you discuss what you’re doing with your boss, manager, mentor, or coach. In the case of my athlete client, he told hiscoaches he was sorry, that he was aware of his shortcomings, and that there was no excuse for his lack of intensity. He pledged that he was focusing on the issue, and it would not happen again.

Public Accountability

Depending on your situation, going public with your contrition and the desire to improve your performance can bolster your success as well as your reputation. In a workplace setting, this could mean writing a guest blog on the company website, sending a bcc email to colleagues, or making a few phone calls to discuss your self-improvement process.

The hockey player told a reporter that his team needed more intensity and focus from him. He also said that they could count on the fact that he was going to deliver. This appeared in the local sports pages.

For public accountability, one needs not talk to the newspapers, but it is essential to notify all affected parties of your intention to be accountable—whether it’s your department, your immediate work team, or key coworkers.

Being accountable isn’t easy, but it is necessary for achieving greater performance and meeting big goals. The next time you catch yourself under-performing at work, try these four levels of accountability. Take ownership of what you can do to make the situation better, and then refuse to give yourself an excuse for not improving.

What are some other ways to be accountable?

Photo by Reportergimmi.

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Dr. Jason Selk LPC, NCC is the Director of Mental Training for the World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals and author of two bestselling titles from McGraw-Hill, 10-Minute Toughness and the newly released Executive Toughness, The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance.


  1. Andre B on the 16th April

    Consistency helps build accountability. People will be able to trust and rely on you when they recognize your consistency. On a basketball team, producing 10 rebounds and 12 points almost every game will build your accountability. In the workplace, you can build your accountability by consistently being on time.

  2. Lindsey Harper Mac on the 23rd April

    This is a fabulous article Jason! It certainly got me thinking about how I need to hold myself accountable on all levels. I enjoyed reading and I look forward to reading more from you! 🙂

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