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After doing thousands of interviews, the authors of the 4 Disciplines of Execution said “A staggering 81 percent of the people surveyed said they were not held accountable for regular progress on the organization’s goals…In short, people weren’t sure what the goal was, weren’t committed to it, didn’t know what to do about it specifically, and weren’t being held accountable for it.”

No wonder so many organizations and ministries are stuck in non-performance.

If you are a team leader or supervisor and you are removing organizational roadblocks and you are supporting and resourcing your people, it is a reasonable expectation that they are making progress and getting their job done.  If you are authentically caring for them and celebrating their wins, it is appropriate to hold people accountable for the agreed upon results. As the old saying goes… “what gets done is what’s inspected, not what’s expected”.

Accountability is about inspecting execution of priorities (the what) but it is also about inspecting our interaction with the team (the how).

One of the reasons the word accountability gets a bad rap is because of the way some people have carried out accountability.  Holding people accountable is not using your position as a club to embarrass, humiliate, mistreat, belittle or shame people.  Our accountability of people should make those on our team better not bitter.

So, “how” I hold people accountable is key. I must care about the results and the relationship.  It is not an either/or proposition.  It must be both/and.  Accountability has a direct correlation to trust… when I trust you and believe that you are “for me”, then I am much more willing to receive the hard conversation.  Making relational deposits makes it much easier to have hard conversations about performance and progress.  

Accountability without relationship and trust feels like an IRS audit.

Accountability must always model truth and grace.  It should not come from a place of anger or frustration, but genuine concern for the individual and the ministry.

By the way, your words really matter when it comes to accountability conversations.  Learn to use phrases that are not accusatory: phrases like

  • I notice…

  • My observation is…

  • My concern is…

  • Can you help me understand?

  • I’d like for us to have a conversation about…

How to receive accountability

1. Work on your emotional health.

Your own emotional health has huge implications for the health and performance of your team.  When you are emotionally healthy, you can hear about your weaknesses or areas of improvement without going to an insecure place that is debilitating.

2. Stay humble and teachable.

None of us completely have our act together.  We all blow it.  We all make mistakes.  We all drop the ball occasionally.  Welcome to the human race.

Some of us in ministry need to give ourselves permission to just be human.  

3. See accountability as an opportunity to get better.

Healthy accountability makes me better.  Generally speaking, we are on our game a little more when we know people are watching.  

I am not an avid cyclist, but I do have a bike that I enjoy riding.  When I am riding and there is no one around I will just coast and take a breather… until I see another bike coming my way.  Then, I start pedaling fast and furious.  There is something about being watched that pushes us to do more than we would do if we weren’t being watched.

4. Invite accountability.

I know that some of us have had a bad experience with this and we are a little gun shy.  I get it.  But just because you had a bad meal at a restaurant doesn’t mean you stop eating.  

Let your boss know that you want to be accountable.  Let them know that you care about getting better, not just in your performance but also in how you interact with the team.

5. Consider the stakes.

There is much at stake for you personally and for the ministry you serve.  

Here is my observation.  The higher up you go in ministry the more diligent you have to work at pursuing accountability.  The higher your position on the org chart the more people are apt to put you on a pedestal and let you live in isolation.  In fact, I often tell senior leaders, you don’t just need to give a few people permission to speak into your life but you need to give them a sense of responsibility.  You need to say to a couple of people “there is too much at stake in my life for me to blow.  So, if you see something going on that needs to be addressed, you have to come to me. I need you to protect me from myself.”

Dietrich Bonhoffer in his book Life Together said “The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together… Nothing can be more cruel than leniency which abandons others to sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”

The “practice of discipline” is accountability.  And when we resist being accountable or holding others accountable it can lead to stuck ministries, unhealthy cultures, sin, unrealized potential, and squandered opportunity.

So, lean in.  You will be better for it and your team will be better for it.

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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