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How to Coach for Action and Accountability

Aug 17, 2023

When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready… The teacher will disappear”  Lao Tzu

Part of being an effective leader is helping people identify how to move things toward completion and the actions they could take.

In traditional leadership – we as leaders have held this as a core part of our role – holding people accountable. 

When we hold a coaching approach to leadership, we turn this around. We work with our colleagues to see how they can hold themselves accountable. To help them to be able to do what they have signed up for.  

As a coach, when we use a coaching approach, we believe the coachee is accountable – not the coach. The coach is there to help the coachee design actions. 

I believe we can adopt this approach in our leadership. As leaders, if we help our direct reports to feel ownership and autonomy then this is good for their motivation and sense of accomplishment.

I see people naturally taking responsibility. By doing this we are seeing each other – coach and coachee, leader and team member – as equal partners in finding ways to ensure action happens. We are in an adult-to-adult conversation. 

If on the other hand, we are the ones holding someone accountable, then they might not feel responsible and lose a sense of personal achievement and ownership. 

Helping our colleagues identify what they are aiming to achieve and gaining clarity on this is helpful. 

What does accountability look like? 

In the ICF competencies, we describe coaching for accountability as: 

  • Partnering with the client to design goals, actions, and accountability measures that integrate and expand new learning 
  • Acknowledging and supporting client autonomy in the design of goals, actions, and methods of accountability 

And so we can look for ways to help our team members think about what they would like to achieve. Here are a few questions to help you. 

  1. What would you like to achieve?
  2. What are the actions you are planning after our conversation?
  3. What is the first step you can take toward this?
  4. How will you know that you are successful?
  5. When do you hope to achieve this by doing this?
  6. What might get in the way of you achieving this?
  7. How could you plan in case this happens?
  8. What do you need to be successful?
  9. What if anything do you need from me?
  10. Is there anyone else’s help you might need?

In our upcoming ICF coach training, we will teach you an in-depth framework to ignite actions and accountability with your client. Learn more about our coach training for leaders here

Adopting an effective follow-up on action 

We can then let them know that we are there to support them and ask when they would like to check in with us. If there is something that you are delegating, you can also stay within a coaching approach.

You can share the goal for the piece of work and then invite your colleague to identify their actions, next steps, and how they will feed back to you on it. They still own it and how they will come back to you on it.

When we follow up later we can be curious about learning from the activity – and if the agreed actions weren’t met there is another coaching opportunity to explore why. We can help them understand what they learned from the activity and how they will move forward and achieve it next time.

Taking a coaching approach to accountability is a great way to enable empowerment.

If you have any positive outcomes from trying these techniques, we also invite you to share how these skills have helped you in your conversations in our comment section of our LinkedIn and Instagram pages.

Want to coach well? Unlock tips on how you can exercise coaching skills
in this week’s toolkit. Download our Free Leadership Reset Toolkit here.  

Jean Balfour ICF Accredited Professional Coach and Managing Director of Bailey Balfour

Jean Balfour

Founder & Programmes Director


About the Author

Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes. Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.

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