Embedding accountability into coaching relationships

By Jim LaDoux
Marshall Goldsmith says, “There is an enormous disconnect between understanding and doing…” (What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, 2007). There are so many things I know I need to do and every day I fail to do them. It’s not that they are not important, actually some of them are essential, but I still fail to do them.  Why is that?

We are all different people. Having said that, here is how I explain my lack of doing. First, I get distracted easily. I have a very curious mind. If something I find interesting catches my attention, there goes my calendar and my time! Second, I work best when I am under pressure.
Deadlines are my “superpower!”  The problem is that sometimes things pile up and there are too many deadlines and my superpower becomes my “kryptonite.”

One of our functions as coaches is to help our coachees embed accountability steps into their coaching plans. By inviting the coachee to develop accountability steps we are offering them an opportunity to achieve success and, to some extent, manage distractions. As coaches we want to encourage them to choose someone outside the coaching relationship to be their accountability partner, bearing in mind that by virtue of being their coach, we are already partnering with them in the accountability process.
Going back to my story, this process of accountability with a coach has been one of the most vital steps in my personal growth. Knowing that I need to report back to my coach, oftentimes keeps me focused on my priorities and aligned with my goals.


  1.  What role does action and accountability play in your coaching?
  2.  How much importance do you put into accountability from your Coachees? 
  3.  How do you ensure Coachees understand the importance of accountability?
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MarQuita Carmichael - October 9th, 2022 at 6:53pm

Action and accountability are very important in my coaching, The coachee's progress and participation in that progression is essential. The coachee's level of motivation around their topic helps keep them encouraged and focused on making what they feel are neccessary adjustments in orfer to live into what they ay is their preferred future.

Accountability is so key in my coaching practice that I ask during each session, " Who can help you be accountable with you say are th most important next steps? What would motivate you to take the first tep you have identified that you intend to take?"

Tom Smith - October 10th, 2022 at 6:21pm

1. For me the role of action and accountability is what 'landing the plane' from a session is all about. If we spend 20-25 minutes with a client probing The Who and then fail to ask about next steps and accountability partners then really what was the point? Action and accountability prevent the act of being coached from becoming the end and keeps it the means.

2. I tend to be very gracious when it comes to holding a coachee accountable and I feel I need to be more assertive in this area. I attended a webinar offered and the coach created an x-y graph with the x axis 'devotion/compassion and the y axis, standards. High standards, high devotion equaled Justice. Low standards and high devotion represented fidelity. If both were low it is neglect and high standards low devotion she labelled severity. Justice, she proposed should be the goal=high standards, high devotion to the client.

3. I think I need to weave it into every session from the first day-including the language of my contract and overarching agreement. Also, by using Direct Communication to share how I need to have accountability in my own life may help too-like Jim does in the above commentary. Naming the challenges one has with accountability offers opportunities for creative responses.

Dan Solomon - October 16th, 2022 at 9:22pm

Tom, I think you are correct in pointing out the importance of weaving accountability into every session. I want to place an increased emphasis on this in the initial session.

Dan Solomon - October 16th, 2022 at 9:18pm

1. Action and accountability play a central role in my coaching. Until recently I tended to focus on the 'what" of the client's situation. Moving forward I want to place an increased emphasis on connecting action and accountability with the 'who' . This will help embed the client's learning and connect to their intrinsic motivation. All of this will tend to lead to deep and effective change for the client. I want to focus on the effective use of marker 8.4.

2. I regularly expect and encourage accountability of my clients. As a result I often have opportunity to celebrate the growth of the client. Additionally, as checking in with the client on how they've done in terms of accountability provides frequent additional opportunities for growth.

3. I try to underscore the connection between accountability and the client's desire to change. I also lift up the connection the client's accountability and the possibility of our coaching conversation helping the client move forward and move deeper in their life.

Tom Pietz - November 14th, 2022 at 8:26pm

What role does action and accountability play in your coaching? My Coaching Website is entitled "Livin' The Dream Life Coaching" which involves naming areas in one's life, wholistically, that the client would like to improve upon, focus on, to live into a preferred future. Oftentimes I will use SMART goals as a tool for client's to craft goals with specifics that lead to clear action steps and deadlines.

How much importance do you put into accountability from your Coachees? I will always stress for them to state what action steps they will take, who will support them or hold them accountable, and perhaps, have the client submit the goal to me at a particular date or before we meet next time.

How do you ensure Coachees understand the importance of accountability? Ask them what the consequences are if they do not proceed with action steps? Ask them how important it is for them to move forward.

Kim Boldt - November 16th, 2022 at 9:15pm

I would want accountability to play a key role, but it's a struggle I have in my own life. It's hard to lead in areas of personal weakness. I am a voracious learner, but also a broad one. I often struggle to focus.

Because of my own experience with wanting to be a more disciplined person, with a better track record of accountability to myself and others, I would want to build in accountability steps from the beginning. This would include encouraging their own sense of agency, and inviting them into setting calendar dates for deliverable outcomes.

Lea Kone - November 20th, 2022 at 3:57pm

I agree that although the coach is not in the role of being the accountability partner, I have always been motivated to have done my "homework" before a next coaching session. I think that can be a powerful motivator for people who are motivated by keeping other people happy. If that that is not their motivating factor, then perhaps exploring what DOES motivate them and incorporate that into the accountability section of a coaching session. So that rather than WHO can hold you accountable, it might be WHAT is going to hold you accountable depending upon the person.

Jeff Smith - November 25th, 2022 at 7:33pm

I haven't done any coaching yet, but if I do, I will be sure to make sure accountability is built into the process. I'll emphasize that such accountability will make it far more likely the coachee accomplishes the next steps they have committed too during a coaching session.

Kim - April 4th, 2023 at 10:18am

Forward movement with accountability is what really drew me to coaching. I have spent years counseling others. And while meaningful and important, I often wondered what changed for my clients. They were able to talk through issues, possibly unearth deep causes of pain and hurt that could then be processed. But was there visible movement towards a new reality? With coaching, you have the opportunity to be present with your client to hear their stories, while also encouraging them toward action. Less talk, more action. We all have good intentions, but habits are hard to break and life often derails even the most motivated. Embedding accountability into our coaching model provides the structure and encouragement to move from intention to action. It helps both client and coach to stay focused on the goal of the covenant. It expands the client’s circle. Accountability moves the coaching process from just a 1:1 conversation into the client’s larger world.

Julie Gvillo - April 5th, 2023 at 11:37am

I love this explanation, Kim! "Embedding accountability into our coaching model provides the structure and encouragement to move from intention to action." YES! And 100% agree with it expanding the client's circle. :)

Becky D'Angelo-Veitch - April 4th, 2023 at 7:02pm

What role does action and accountability play in your coaching?

I think that one reason I am drawn to the framework of coaching is because of the accountability. I used to ofter find myself so frustrated attending retreat after retreat with committees or staff colleagues and realizing that we spent a huge chunk of time generating ideas, but very little time prioritizing them and almost no time setting goals around them and then building in accountability. Deadlines were fuzzy and came and went, and my frustration grew. When I first attended a leadership gathering on a "coach approach' to leadership, I felt as though this was a framework that was build for action and not just playing "what if". I was hooked!

How much importance do you put into accountability from your Coachees?

As a coach, I really try to stress to my clients the importance of the accountability partnerships. That said, mostly I have coached in shorter term cohorts rather than for sustained coach/client relationships, so I am still feeling out what that will look like moving forward, but I put a lot of importance on the idea of needing someone to be accountable. I also like to invite clients to consider other tools (calendars, apps and other deadline tools) but I do believe that the strongest accountability is person-to-person

How do you ensure Coachees understand the importance of accountability?

This is an interesting one. I shared in class a few sessions ago that I had a meeting with a possible client, but when it came to naming an accountabilit partner, they balked. "I don't have anyone close enough to ask to do that"; "I don't feel comfortable asking a colleague that", "I burden my friends enough with my problems, I don't want to ask anyone to do that". At the end of the session, we decided mutually that coaching would not give them what they needed at the moment, which was more someone to listen and less a goal-setting forward-moving framework. I think my personality is one that is very interested in pleasing the other person and in compromising or even bargaining, so for me I was rather proud that I was able to name that without accountability, there really can't be transformative coaching.

Shannon Guse - April 5th, 2023 at 10:55am

Way to be direct with your client and holding true to the process. I appreciate you sharing this interaction and making sure the client understood that this is an integral part of the coaching process.

Julie Gvillo - April 5th, 2023 at 11:40am

You GO, sister!! Congratulations on making that hard call!

And 100% agree with the whole brainstorming-without-an-action-plan frustration. I've always liked "homework" ... action steps that move things forward. I'm sure that's what I appreciate about coaching as well. :)

Shannon Guse - April 5th, 2023 at 10:52am

In almost every session, the coachee has come up with a clear plan of action and someone to hold them accountable. When there seems to be ambiguity in next steps and/or accountability partner, I reevaluate the coaching session and think about other lines of questioning. If I was coaching the same person for several sessions, I would follow up in our next meeting to see if we need to clarify next steps.

Identifying and stating who can hold the coachee accountable is important, and asking for clarity on what the coachee will be asking this person can solidify exactly what the next step is. I also like to ask if the coachee has the resources they need to be successful.

Julie Gvillo - April 5th, 2023 at 11:41am

Ooooh ... I like the question about resources! YES! Good job, Shannon! :)

Julie Gvillo - April 5th, 2023 at 11:35am

Action and accountability are critical in coaching. The coachee's investment in forward movement is what makes coaching coaching. Celebrating that forward movement with the coachee is an important part of the coach's role because it affirms the coachee's transformational process and progress and encourages further forward movement.

The coaching agreement calls for a recurring question about people in the coachee's circle who can provide support and accountability. Identifying these people is important to the coachee's understanding of community and creates a safety net, not only for success, but also for failure, which buoys a coachee who is experimenting with new ideas, rhythms, and explorations.

I think coachees best understand the importance of accountability when they make use of it and see its benefits firsthand, therefore encouraging it from the outset -- when perhaps the coachee has never benefitted from accountability partners before -- might be challenging. However, at the very least, it is probable that any coachee will have had an experience of school or work where a deadline was looming, and that, in itself, is a motivating accountability "partner." A clock may serve in the same capacity. Helping coachees see that a *human* accountability partner is more encouraging than a clock or calendar can move them toward a more open minded approach to asking colleagues and/or friends to serve as accountability partners for them in their journey toward transformation.

D. Matty - April 12th, 2023 at 6:26pm

What role do action and accountability play in your coaching?

Accountability sandwiches action. It's been said, "You get not what you expect, but rather what you inspect." One of my favorite questions someone asked when coaching me was, "Who on your team can help you with this?" That sparked a shift in my thinking at that moment. This question is a 'communication cousin' to "Who can hold you accountable?" in that it invites one to consider other people who can be part of one's goals.

How much importance do you put into accountability from your Coachees?

In the training phase of coaching school, I practice coaching in my everyday ministry life, though not in formal coaching relationships. I ask questions like, "What will you do or say to act on your intentions," and "Who can hold you accountable?" Most of the conversations in which I engage and my role in the appointments with people do not lend themselves to requiring people to be accountable to me. (I held students accountable when I was director of a leadership program, so I understand this dynamic and its value). Still, I ask the questions and frame them in such a way as to help the individual see the importance of action and accountability for them. I always invite them to circle back and let me know how it's going.

How do you ensure Coachees understand the importance of accountability?

Once I begin to engage in formal coaching relationships, as one commenter above noted, the language I use from the beginning matters. Speaking the language of accountability will become natural, not intimidating.

Tony Myles - April 13th, 2023 at 2:50am

Coaching is not just about talking or coming up with ideas, but about taking action and making progress towards desired outcomes. As a coach I get to help a client set actionable goals and create a plan to achieve them. I can't follow them around to make sure they do it, though, so helping them find accountability to take consistent action is key to them taking responsibility for their progress.

I believe I'm good at trusting clients with this. I had a family member who used to test me with wanting to fix things for them, and so I've developed some thick skin in this. People are more capable than they think, and braver than they may look. I believe that by assuming they will do this, they actually will take the necessary steps towards achieving their desired outcomes.

Madeline Alvarez - April 26th, 2023 at 9:57am

1. Action and accountability are two sides of the same coin, without action the client will not move toward their desired outcomes. On the other hand accountability keeps clients focused and committed to their goal.

2. We all need support when seeking transformation, accountability is vital.

3. By setting clear expectations at the inception of the coaching relationship.

Charity Cuellar - May 7th, 2023 at 8:19pm

I'm not very far along with coaching- I'm still pretty new to it, but I agree with Jim's point that accountability helps to minimize distraction. I guess that accountability helps to track the client's progress and that the more we talk about how to get where the client wants to be the more accountability matters.

Melonee Tubb - May 12th, 2023 at 2:21pm

What role does action and accountability play in your coaching?

--I need to put some accountability into place for my coaching work. I've been using random friends, but then can't keep up with who I've told what and there is no helpful structure there.

How much importance do you put into accountability from your Coachees?

--I'm noticing that I tend to let people off the hook too easily when it comes to accountability. It's something that has made me uncomfortable in the past, so I have to push through those feelings to be able to help the client set reasonable accountability measures for their own context.

Nicole - May 16th, 2023 at 3:58pm

I find accountability to be the most important piece and the hardest to get coachees to commit to and actually follow through on. They have trouble naming accountability partners and then are very hesitant to actually reach out to them or even to talk to folks about their coaching process/experience. Are there good ways anyone has found to make it more likely for folks to actually follow through? I can't be the accountability partner and the coach as well for everyone!