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Want to Build more Trust? Choose Accountability.

There are two types of people when it comes to trust:

  • those who offer trust until it is broken

  • those who expect trust to be earned before it is given

Who are you? Do you give trust freely or intentionally at first? Do you treat all relationships equal when it comes to how you manage your trust?

If you desire deeper trust in a relationship or team, look no further than accountability. And it starts with you. How you lead yourself is how you lead others.

First, what is accountability? It is "the expectation of account-giving." It is responsibility; it is follow-through. It is when someone does what they say they are going to do. Keep reading for a simple tool for managing accountability.

A mindset of accountability is present in how I lead my clients, my students, my daughters and myself. When creating a culture of trust through accountability, at home or in the office, it starts with you and the responsibility is two-fold:

  1. Be accountable.

  2. Hold others accountable.

To be accountable, clarity on what you want to give account for is required. In other words, what is the thing you are going to follow through on? Having a framework to get started is a great way to create accountability from the start.

I use the GROW Coaching Model, developed by executive coach Sir John Whitmore, to hold myself and others accountable. The acronym stands for:

Goal, Reality, Obstacles (or Options), and Way Forward.

The model uses curiosity (a coach's magic wand!) through open-ended questions to unlock potential and possibilities. Each step is defined below and I included questions to help you stay away from the advice-monster, a challenge even the most skilled coaches must manage! Give it a try on yourself first, then practice with someone else. For yourself, choose an area you want to work on in your life and follow the process by journaling your answers to the questions below.

Step 1: Goal

First, establish the mood for the conversation by checking in. A few options:

  • How are you feeling today?

  • What's on your mind?

Next, help the person get clear on what they hope to be different in their situation. With an established and trusting relationship, this will become more efficient, but don't rush this process. Slowing down for a few minutes in this step will allow better results later. Think of the tortoise and the hare.

Questions to clarify goals:

  • What do you want to explore today?

  • Where do you feel stuck?

  • What is your ideal outcome for this situation?

  • What do you long for?

  • What do you want?

  • What do you hope to be different as a result of our time together today?

  • What's the clarity you need to know what success looks like?

  • 3 months from now, what is different?

  • It sounds like we have a goal for our time together, what would you say it is?

Step 2: Reality

Once you've established the desire (i.e. goal), it's important to understand what is present in this moment. Understanding reality means challenging assumptions and acknowledging stories. Focus on facts and succinctly state the purpose of the goal.

A few questions to help this process:

  • What is happening at the moment?

  • What's keeping/waking you up at night about this?

  • What do you know about the current situation?

  • What would a video camera or audio camera capture about this situation?

  • How is this most impacting you?

  • How urgent is this?

  • How important is this?

  • What have you tried so far?

  • What success have you had so far?

During the reality exploration, use sensory statements to get agreement on a neutral goal. These start with "it sounds like", "it looks like" or "it feels like". Sensory Statements keep the "I" and "you" statements at bay that often lead to defensiveness or divisiveness when exploring sensitive or complicated situations. This could be something like "It sounds like we are exploring a conflict with Sam" or "It looks like both efficiency and thoroughness are important here" or "It sounds like it's not easy to choose one path forward."

Step 3: Obstacles and Options

Depending on what's been established, this process will include exploring obstacles, options or both.

Stay curious. When you have a recommendation, be mindful of that aforementioned advice monster. Explore at least 1-2 of their ideas before adding yours. You can even say "I have a few ideas, but want to explore what's on your mind first." When it's your turn, start with "I wonder..." to maintain curiosity.

Here are curious ways to explore obstacles and options:

  • What's standing in your way?

  • What's slowing you down?

  • What's preventing you from going for it?

  • If nothing was standing in your way, what would you try?

  • If you were guaranteed success, what would you do?

  • If you had a magic wand here, how would you use it?

  • What else?

  • What if it works out exactly how you want it to? What does that look like?

  • If you could turn this all around, what would that offer you?

  • What help do you need?

  • What does support look like?

  • What has worked in the past?

  • Who could help you with this?

Step 4: Way Forward

As you wrap up the exploration, trust and accountability come together. Hopefully, you've held yourself and others accountable to curiosity so far and now it's time for commitment. A powerful 4-letter word in this step is "will".

"What are you willing to do to get the result you want?" When helping others, your role is to empower them to come up with the commitment that feels motivating TO THEM, not to you.

Here are some questions to create accountability:

  • What new perspective do you have today?

  • What do you need to make this feel complete?

  • What's next?

  • What will happen if you do that?

  • What will not happen if you do not do that?

  • What would you like to do this week based on this exploration?

  • What are you willing to do in the next 24 hours?

  • Who will you tell to hold you accountable to this work?

  • How will they know when it's complete?

The GROW Model's popularity stems from its adaptability and usability in so many scenarios. It emphasizes accountability while fostering collaboration, whether that be at home between a parent-child or partner dynamic, or in the office between a leader and direct report or within a peer relationship. With a curious mindset and a coaching framework like GROW, you enable yourself and others to develop agency, solve problems, and seek answers independently. Afterall, how we lead ourselves is how we lead others!


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