Achieve Your Goals with an Accountability Partner

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January 20, 2014

It’s well recognized in the field of professional development that behavior change is augmented substantially by engaging others in helping you change. In addition, engaging others dramatically improves your leadership brand.

Edwin Locke and Gary Latham shared some dramatic statistics around goal attainment in Goal Setting: A Motivational Technique that Works. Summarizing their findings they suggest the likelihood of advancing toward your goal is improved by how robust your goal support systems are. Consider the following estimates of the likelihood that you will make progress toward your goal:

Simply identify a goal:                                             6% – 8%

Plus write it down:                                               25% – 30%

Plus verbally share it with others:              55% – 60%

Plus adding an Accountability Partner:                  85%+

Talk is cheap but hard work is not. Changing your behavior toward becoming a more effective leader or influencer means, among other things, leaving behind powerful psychological reasons for your current actions and patterns. What got you to your present level of success is important, and it’s scary to think about changing what you do and how you do it. And the more senior you are, the more experience can actually hold you back. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Locke and Latham would likely say that if you identify changes that you feel are important to you, you need strong supporting mechanisms to sustain us in making those changes. Simply identifying a goal rarely brings about any productive changes. That’s why motivational talks, speeches, and many educational events are practically useless to actually create learning and change. Writing down your goal, especially in a metric-based format like SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) helps make your dreams much more practical.

Making a public declaration of your development intentions creates two distinct advantages. First, you are putting yourself out in public among people who work with you and so it creates an intrinsic accountability. You don’t want to be seen as going back on your word. Secondly it enhances your brand. It shows that you are wise enough to identify your own development needs and are making that public. Now the dirty little secret is that even if you don’t actually do anything about your development need (depending on your goal), people will often see you as having improved. You rise in their esteem. If you do actually take steps to change your behavior, people will see these changes much more quickly than if you began making real behavior changes and never told them. Statistics I’ve seen suggest that it can take up to 18 months for people to begin noticing changes when unannounced, but will report positive changes within about 4 months if they’ve been told you’re working on them.

Finally, recruiting an Accountability Partner to help you achieve your goal is the final key to successful development. When you share your goal with another thought partner you expand your consideration of what’s possible, what’s practical and what’s useful. Someone who sees you in action regularly and is looking critically at your behaviors is a valuable feedback mechanism. They can not only help you think through the behaviors that might be helpful to you – as well as understanding the organizational context you’re in – but can help you think through how to adapt, modify and overcome barriers to your behavior execution. Regular follow-up with your Accountability Partner (for example, once a month for six months) will do wonders to help you continue the hard work you are doing. You can also reciprocate, offering to be their Accountability Partner on aspects of their effectiveness that they want to advance.


BE BETTER NOW – A Leadership Call to Action – Take a moment right now to put your thoughts into action

  1. What is ONE ASPECT of your professional life that might benefit from more or different attention in this subject area (enhancing the impact you make on others)?
  1. What is ONE THING you could do TODAY that would move you more deliberately in this direction? The Behavior or action I could take (verb); I will…
  1. HOW will you ensure you are developing – WITH WHOM can you share this goal or add to your brain trust to hold yourself accountable?
  1. MAKE a 10 minute calendar appointment right now to check in with yourself on this topic next week (better yet – for each following week). Keep it practical – write brief notes on two questions only:
  • What clear steps did I take last week for my own development?
  • What will I focus on executing next week?

Need some thought partner time? – Call/email at 336.918.8415

Practical – Relevant – Immediately Useful