Be Inspired

Redefining Accountability

October 17, 2022

Until recently, I thought of “accountability” as a process defined like this:

These are pretty traditional definitions, and they’re not wrong. But as a leader, accountability through the lens of these explanations always felt like I was focusing on people’s deficits and deciding things for them. It seemed that in order to hold someone accountable, I had to point out what they should do, what they might miss if they weren’t careful, or what wasn’t good enough. 

As I was listening to a podcast one day, I heard it said that the truest definition of the word accountability is actually right there in the word: account for your ability


This stopped me in my tracks! Could I reframe accountability to focus on people’s abilities instead of shortcomings? Could I give them clearer ownership based on their strengths? Absolutely yes!

What I could do was take those definitions of accountability and alter them slightly:

With a slightly different focus, accountability takes on a positive connotation. Instead of being concerned about what someone cannot do or what they missed, I can hold them accountable for their abilities. I can provide them the tools they need to follow through. And I can encourage their efforts to prevent or resolve problems.

I’ve realized that the more I do this, the more confident my team is. Being held accountable no longer conjures worries that something (or someone) isn’t good enough. Rather it frees them to say, “This is what I am able to contribute” or “Here’s how I worked toward this goal” or “I fixed this issue before it snowballed into something worse.” The difference may seem slight, but it’s actually huge!

I encourage you to try out this mindset shift, too. Call your people up. Ask them what they are capable of. Cheer them on as they lean into their strengths and abilities. Make “accountability” count for more than just obligation—give your team members a limitless ceiling and see what they can accomplish. 🙂

To your ability and theirs!


Be inspired
Get inspiration straight to your inbox.
Sign up