6 Rules for Accountability 

When I was 13 years old I thought it would be a great idea to practice chipping golf balls on my parents lawn… facing the house. I’m not nearly as confident in my golf game today! I remember the horrible feeling of stupidity and guilt that overcame me as the ball crashed through our living room window. 

My mother did a pretty good job of keeping her cool as I explained how “I didn’t mean for it to go through the window” and apologized. When she accepted my apology I don’t remember her yelling or lecturing me.  It wasn’t needed. Yet, I do remember the additional chores I had to pick up every weekend for the next month to pay for the window replacement. Chopping wood, clearing brush, and then burning the piles in 100+ degree South Carolina heat. I’m still convinced my parents moved our family to the country just to give us more chores to do! At the time I remember being angry… I didn’t mean to break the window, so why am I having to do all this work? 

I’m sure my parents felt bad for me, no parent likes seeing their kid do something stupid. Yet, my parents holding me accountable taught me more than just to aim away from the house when swinging a golf club. It taught me that taking responsibility requires action, not just words. I had to help make it right. I had to help fix the window. 

Empathy without Accountability

As coaches and parents I think we’re so focused on empathy these days we don’t want people to experience pain. But as the psychiatrist and author of Dopamine Nation Dr. Anna Lembke says, “Empathy without accountability is a short sighted attempt to relieve suffering.” My parents’ likely difficult choice to NOT save me from suffering the consequences of the mistakes I made was essential to the learning experience. 

In an effort to create a culture where my players (or even children) feel seen, known and loved regardless of their performance or behavior, it’s easy for me to let them off the hook, to save them from their poor decisions. When we save people from the pain of their poor decisions we think we are helping them, but we are really hurting them. Pain can be a great teacher. 

Accountability done the right way is hard. Yet, empathy with accountability is critical in leadership if we want to impact lives and create a great culture.  Here are six rules I try to remember when holding players accountable. 

6 Rules for Accountability 

  1. Only when we hold ourselves accountable, can we hold others accountable. Start with self accountability.
  2. Love does not exist without truth. Hard conversations are a necessary part of leadership. Don’t hold back.
  3. Playing a sport is a privilege. When people fail to meet the standard they should lose that privilege until they are ready to meet the standard. 
  4. When someone makes a mistake, consequences should be solutions to the damage or rupture caused by the misbehavior. You don’t need to make someone feel bad for them to learn from the experience. 
  5. You get what you tolerate. If you don’t like what’s going on within your team—it’s on you. 
  6. You can’t be for everyone. When someone is not willing to work to meet the standard it’s time for them to move on. 

Food for Thought

-J.P. Nerbun, Founder of TOC Culture Consulting