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Taking Into Account

“Exhibiting accountability over time is a gateway to trust. When we see someone acting with accountability, we gain the evidence we need to trust them.” – Mike Erwin and Willys Devoll

“How do I hold people on my team accountable?” my client said. “I need them to act like owners, to take ownership of the outcomes.” I hear this from every leader struggling to build team cohesion and wanting to trust their teammates. Contrary to what leaders need to do for their people, accountability starts within the individuals of the group you’re working with: How do we show up for our work together? 

Accountability is also an inside job. How are you, an employee, taking full responsibility for yourself as it relates to this work? Are you shirking responsibility, not delivering, blaming, not showing up, or acting out in other ways? That’s not taking accountability personally, and its ramifications ripple through the team in named and unnameable ways.

Being accountable means being ready to show up for the work that’s in front of us and be a contributor to the fulfillment of the goal of the whole. You may have a piece of that puzzle in your layer of management, but how you show up for that and operate cross-functionally, is a determinant factor in the success or failure of the thing–and how you show up for that can speak volumes of your reliability on the team. 

“Accountability, at its best, flows in multiple directions throughout a team or organization–up, down, and laterally across all relationships,” notes Andy Crissinger, our Director of Coaching and Team Experiences. “Essentially it’s about how well we hold ourselves and each other to the commitments we make. Just like we say feedback is as much about relationships as it is about improving performance, the same is true for accountability. It’s about “power with” more than it is about “power over.” The highest performing groups are the ones that develop a mutual self-accountability muscle.”

In other words “we” hold ourselves accountable, as opposed to one central leader (like the CEO for example) holding everyone else accountable. 

We often say trust is one person’s assessment of another person’s competence, sincerity, and reliability. Accountability is a related concept to trust, particularly as it relates to reliability. We all know what it’s like to work with teammates who don’t hold themselves accountable–not much good work can get done in a timely way as the business demands.

My colleague Ray Foote shares more on this, “A culture of accountability is key to cultivating a shared sense of trust. Committing to an action is critically important to an organization that flourishes. Equally important is recovering from missed commitments. Both are key parts of being accountable.”

Elements of Accountability that Ray likes are: 

  • Taking initiative: You take ownership of your actions and decisions and are proactive in following through on your responsibilities.
  • No surprises: You are open and honest in communicating with others, letting them know about your progress and any challenges you may face in a timely way.
  • Lean into ownership: You understand that your choices have consequences and are willing to face the results of your actions.
  • Know when to say no: Be mindful of your and your team’s bandwidth. Saying no is more desirable than saying yes, and over-committing.
  • Be a model of accountability: You set an example of accountability for others, inspiring and motivating them to take ownership of their own lives and decisions.

Where do you see yourself in the above points? How would you rate your team as a whole on their accountability factor? How well do you trust the folks on your team to deliver?


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