Keys to Healthy Accountability

Is it possible to hold people accountable in a way that is healthy for relationships?  Why has accountability received such a bad rap?  Why is it such an unpopular subject?

Many people have had bad experiences with unhealthy accountability that feels more like control, judgement, manipulation and even punishment.

It is not your job to punish a spouse, friend or employee for not doing what they are supposed to do.  It is not your job to force him or her to stop or change the unhealthy behavior.  Accountability is not about trying to make someone else be or do what you want.

You are not responsible for your partner’s actions or decisions.  If you have permission or request from your spouse to point out when they get off track from something they want to do, your job is just to point it out, not to control or cajole them. What he or she does with that information is out of your hands.

Healthy accountability starts with a servant heart. It starts with, how am I here to serve you?  It is not at all about I am here to make you shape you or break you.

More effective words for accountability might be how can I help “support”, “encourage”, or “assist” you in accomplishing what you want?

The foundation for beneficial accountability is a strong relationship characterized by unconditional love and complete transparency.

Healthy accountability thrives in a safe environment where there is unconditional love and transparency.

Healthy accountability requires fostering honest, open communication.  People need to know that sharing the good, the bad and the ugly will all be received with the same love, acceptance and even forgiveness when needed.

Healthy accountability thrives in an environment where people know that nothing they do or don’t do will make you love them any more or less.  Honest mistakes do not make me look down on your or punish you, whether in family or in business and regardless of the size or consequences.

Radically close relationships require radical transparency.  And transparency is a pre-requisite to healthy accountability.  For example, in our family we give each other full access to each other’s life including passwords for everything.

Hiding things or lying is a cardinal offense because it destroys transparency and trust and diminishes the ability to have healthy accountability in that relationship.

Whenever accountability moves towards control it becomes cancerous to the relationship.

Accountability can easily turn to judgement and control easily whenever the actions desired become more important than the relationship.

Accountability requires relationship and permission. You only know how and when to hold someone accountable best when you have a close relationship with someone.

In reality we can’t truly hold someone accountable, as if we had complete control over someone else’s behavior.  We can’t force someone else to be accountable.  We can actually only hold ourselves accountable.  Self accountability is taking extreme ownership for our own actions.  What we can do is hold ourselves accountable for supporting someone else in their efforts to hold themselves accountable.

The specifics of how accountability is done will look different in each relationship.  However, there are three steps that seem to be fairly common in any healthy accountability relationships.

Simple Three Step System for Healthy Accountability

Understand what the other person wants and determine best way to help them.

  • Seek first to understand their desires.
  • Ask questions like, “What do you really want in this area of your life (or business) to look like? What would you need to do to make that happen?”  That means the other person has to have a desire to be do or have something different. You can’t make that up for them or make them want something that you think is better for them.
  • Sometimes you can serve them well by helping them figure out what they want. This is more often the case in the work environment.

Agree on clear expectations and get their permission to help.

  • What are you telling me that you’d like to do differently?  Are you serious about doing that? When do you want to start taking action on that?
  • Would you like me to help, encourage or support you in doing this?  How would you like me to support or encourage you in doing what you’re saying you want to do?

Follow up.

  • Care enough to pay attention to what is happening in their life.  Do what they’ve asked you to do or given you permission to do in supporting them.  Make the call. Schedule the meeting. Send the reminder. Ask the question.  Etc.
  • Celebrate the wins and have the difficult conversations when needed.  Look for any possible opportunity to encourage, celebrate and cheer them on for any progress they have made toward their desires.   And be willing to have the tough conversations in love when needed. Always remember, the relationship is more important than the results.

Cautions about Accountability

Accountability does not mean punishing them for not coming through, by yelling, the silent treatment, ignoring them, complaining… taking something away.  Those things create no value in the relationship or in their life.

For example, if we ask someone to do something or show up in a certain way and they don’t, what can we do?

It helps to first gain some clarity. If someone does not follow through on something they agreed to, then we need to discuss it with them. We need to listen to what they want to tell us (not what we want to hear, but what they want to say), and then we need to accept it.

At that point, we need to honestly state our truth without beating them up. Focus on exactly how you feel now and/or the impact on you or your family or team now, not the other times they let you down by doing something that you or they wanted.

When you ask yourself how you feel or what the impact is on you, it takes great self-awareness to separate the current situation and impacts from past situations and impacts. Some people have a deep-seated feeling of low self-esteem or disappointment with your own life and those people sometimes try to hold others accountable because of that perspective of neediness in their own life. They need to show us we’re worthy and when they don’t come through, for many of us it is additional indictment to our level of self-worth.  They have once again proven how unlovable we are reinforcing our failures.   That is obviously never a position from which you can create healthy accountability in relationships.

Ask yourself some questions to clarify what is happening inside of you.  Is this a significant incident in the overall treatment we receive in the relationship — is it the standard operating system of this person not respect me?  Or is this an isolated incident?  Or does this incident really have nothing to do with their respect for or honor of me?  Is this about them meeting my needs in an appropriate way?  Am I doing everything I can be doing to meet my own needs? How do I treat myself?  Am I respecting my own boundaries? Am I saying what I mean and backing it with action?

If I’m remiss in how I treat myself, it is more likely that others will mistreat me.  We must practice self-care, love and respect. In self-care, we shift the control of ourselves from waiting or wanting someone else to fulfill us, to making sure we are honoring ourselves. We must begin with self-acceptance, which includes where we may judge ourselves harshly too. Often, those who have a huge inner-critic also are tend to judge others harshly.

Self-care doesn’t mean we do everything on our own. It just means that we’re willing to do what we need to make sure we’re taken care of and that includes having boundaries for how we want to be treated.

It always comes back to us when we’re talking about accountability. If we’re serious about a relationship, we need to be clear on those boundaries and what it means to uphold them.

And if we’re not treated appropriately by others and we’re treating ourselves with respect and love, then it is probably time to re-evaluate our expectations of that relationship. Settling when we really love ourselves is not an option. It’s when we don’t really love ourselves that we want to hold everything outside of us accountable for that lack.

Speak up with love, look within our thoughts and feelings to get clear follow through with action to back up our words, thoughts and feelings.

If you’ve done this and you’re sure that the tough conversation you want to have is not driven by some of your own insecurities or internal deficiencies, then have the courage to have the difficult conversation.

Having Crucial Conversations

We recommend that you read the book, Crucial Conversation for more specific training on how to have healthy, tough conversations.    Defining moments in life come from having crucial conversations (as these create significant shifts in attitude and behavior). This book focuses on techniques on how to hold such conversations in a positive space when surrounded by highly charged emotions. Their findings are based on 25 years of research with 20,000 people.

Their model has essentially 7 steps:

1)  Start with the heart (i.e empathy and positive intent)

2)  Stay in dialogue

3)  Make it safe

4)  Don’t get hooked by emotion (or hook them)

5)  Agree on a mutual purpose

6)  Separate facts from story

7)  Agree on a clear action plan

Our success in life is dictated by the quality of relationships we can engender. Some people seem better at negotiating better quality outcomes (for all) than others do – they work with people rather than through people. They are able to hold deeper, more honest conversations that create a new level of bonding and are able to transform people, situations and relationships.  By being prepared to hold these conversations (often early) they ensure clarity over responsibility, define expectations and hence maintain high levels of performance.  When we let these conversations go by, we let standards slip and unwittingly give permission for unwanted behavior to continue.

Crucial conversations lie all around us – all the time: from performance appraisals at work, up to discussing problems over sexual intimacy in marriage. The skills we need in the boardroom are the same skills we need in the bedroom.

Instead of having these crucial conversations, people tend to fall into one of three behavior camps: Those who get emotionally drawn in and resort to threats/name calling; Those who silently fume; and those who speak openly, honestly and effectively. Upon analysis they found those in the third camp were more likely to stay together.

Communities that embraced the issues and discussed things in open honest dialogue were ‘healthier’ than those who either tried to control or ignored them.

Crucial conversations, by their very definition are important and can affect a person’s life. There are three factors that tend to define a crucial conversation: 1) Opinions differ 2) The stakes are high and 3) Emotions are high.

If handled properly they create breakthroughs. If handled badly they can lead to breakdowns. Whole relationships can hang on how these are dealt with. And the reality is many people do not deal with them well – or at all. They live in either a sub-optimal state or hope the situation will resolve itself.

EPISODE RESOURCES: and sign up for several free resources including a simple questionnaire to help better understand our own style when under stress.


Thanks again for listening to the show! If it has helped you in any way, please share it using the social media buttons you see on the page.   We’d also really appreciate any feedback or questions that might guide what we talk about in future episodes.

Additionally, reviews for the podcast on iTunes are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated! They do matter in the rankings of the show and we read each and every one of them.


  • Subscribe to the Systems for Success Podcast on IOS or Apple Itunes.
  • Subscribe to the Systems for Success Podcast on Android or Windows OS.
  • Enter your email in one of the email opt-ins on this site for regular emails from Lonnie Gienger or the Gienger Family on additional Systems for Success.
  • Follow Systems for Success on Instagram @systemsforsuccess
  • Follow Lonnie Gienger on Instagram @lonniegienger