Is Coaching All About Accountability?
Very often we will see coaches marketing themselves as ‘your accountability partner’.
And we’ve seen individuals saying things like, ‘oh, she’s great, she holds me to account’
Which has many believing that coaching is all about accountability.
But is it? And can you REALLY hold someone accountable for the actions they say they will take?
Tom did some research a couple of years ago around accountability and asked coaches, ‘do you use accountability in your coaching? And almost without fail, everyone that responded to the survey said, ‘yes, I do’.
He then asked them:
‘What does that look like in the coaching room?’
And they said, ‘Well, we look at what they’ve said they’re going to do and whether they’ve done it’.
Follow by ‘What happens when they don’t do it?’
Their answers were generally, ‘We’ll talk about it and we’ll talk about the reasons why they haven’t done it’.
To us, this seems like it is simply a coaching conversation. It’s not accountability, because there is no consequence of them not taking the action they were going to take.
So, whilst we will coach people around their goals and how they’re moving towards them, as coaches, do we really hold people to account? We are not their parent, we are not their boss, we’re not there to make sure they do what they say they want to do. That’s down to them.
Can We REALLY Hold Someone Accountable?
If the coachee has goals and there are actions that they’ve recognised would be useful to take in order to meet their desired objective, then they are accountable for the motivation, the impetus to actually take those actions. Our role as a coach is to work on the psychology of motivation, look at strategies of how they might go about taking those actions. So, we are sharing that journey together. There is a facilitation of the creation of actions and movement towards the desired goals. And if they do take the actions, then we can congratulate them and help them to set new actions for the future.
Sometimes, when people have set themselves a task to complete before their next session with you, they will do it because they know they’re seeing you. But that’s not because you as a coach hold them to account. That’s because there’s a deadline. And many people work better to a deadline – and when someone else knows about it.
Our take on this is that we walk alongside people whilst they’re taking action and will inquire and show curiosity around the actions they said they were going to take. And if they’ve not managed to do what they said they were going to do, we’ll explore it, but with curiosity and not judgment.
One of their reasons for not taking the action might be procrastination, or perhaps life got in the way. Or maybe, those things weren’t that important in the first place. So, when they’ve come to take the action, they’ve realised that the goals they have set for themselves aren’t actually that important any more. That’s all good coaching territory and we can explore that and what would be more important for them to do. But it’s not for us as coaches to say, ‘Well, you said you were going to do it and you haven’t done it. So, what’s going on there?’
We want to come to the coaching room very much as an equal with our coachees and to maintain that relationship throughout. We don’t want there ever to be a time where they feel they have to justify themselves to us.
There are exceptions, there are elements of coaching that the coachee is accountable for.
- For example, turning up to the coaching sessions. We have an agreement that we will coach them, they will show up and they will pay for the coaching. So, if they’re not going to show up, then we want to know 48 hours in advance. They’re accountable for that. And there is a consequence for them not showing up, and that is that they will be charged if they don’t give 48 hours notice. If they do, that’s fine, we’ll postpone it. But there is that agreement and that’s something that we will hold them to account for.
- Also, the client is accountable for being on time. The consequence of not being on time is that they miss part of the session. So, we aren’t going to overrun because they are late, we’ll run to the original time.
- And, of course, we will hold them to account for paying for their coaching sessions.
So, there is an accountability element to coaching in that part, but not in terms of the actions they’re going to take.
In return, it’s our job as coaches to manage the coaching to make sure that we’re having a coaching conversation and not just a chat. We try to make sure that we’re moving forward in the coaching conversation and that there’s some progress. Obviously, if the coachee walks away and does nothing we cannot take responsibility for that. And they are accountable for that to themselves, but not to us.
Why Has Accountability Become Such A Big Concept In Coaching?
The accountability element probably stems from the fact that coaching as we know it really started in organisations and as a management tool. So, people were being coached perhaps by their managers who they were accountable to. Then beyond that, external coaches came in or internal coaches were trained up, but there was still a requirement from the organisation that something happened, that progress was made, perhaps towards goals, but certainly towards development. And that’s what they were paying the coaches for. there from an organisational perspective.
What If A Client Asks You To Act As Their Accountability Partner?
Firstly, think about your role is as a coach:
- Who do you want to be in the coaching room?
- What is your intention for coaching?
- What are your thoughts on accountability? They may be different from ours.
Then think about how you will nurture that sense of autonomy in the coachee, that sense of them being able to self coach eventually and to be able to move forward without the coach. That’s the ultimate aim, isn’t it? That we’re facilitating their empowerment. And if part of the coaching is that they keep having to come back to us to be coached in order to move forward, then we’re not really doing them a great service. There’s still a reliance on us a dependence rather than independence.
Just as an extra thought, The Association for Coaching says, as part of one of its competencies. that
‘the coach will leave accountability with the client while following through on the coach’s own actions’.
So, we believe that we take responsibility for what we’ve said we’re going to do, but we leave their accountability with the coachee.
It’s Just Our Opinion!
In this post we are offering one perspective on accountability, food for thought, and perhaps a discussion with your peers or supervisor. We hope it helps you to formulate your own thoughts on the topic and to decide how much you want to/can hold people to account.
Part of the reason for our thoughts on this topic being what they are is that we both see ourselves as transformational coaches who help people to become the best version of themselves. And that’s not always about goals, therefore it’s not about accountability. If you’d like to find out more about our transformational coaching diploma you can do so here.