If you’ve read my What is accountability? discussion and still want some accountability in your life, one of your options is working with an accountability coach. We’ll consider any coach who gives her clients assignments and holds her clients accountable for doing those assignments to be an accountability coach, whether she labels herself as one or not.
Accountability in a coaching relationship is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s a highly effective way of getting into action. On the other hand, accountability brings some not-so-pleasant dynamics with it that may disturb your relationship with your coach.
Of course, as with everything about coaching, it’s all about what works for you. In this article, we’ll look at both sides of the issue so you can decide if working with an accountability coach is for you.
You get into serious, consistent action
Having a coach check every session to make sure you’ve done your assignment is likely to kick you into action more than if you work with an accountability partner or have no accountability at all.
Well, clients generally see their coaches as authority figures, to some degree. And most people have an inherent desire to do what an authority figure assigns, as well as an inherent aversion to disappointing an authority figure. You may think your coach is a cool person and want to impress her — and not want to disappoint her or have her think badly of you.
Also, you’re probably handing over a nice chunk of change to your coach every month. If you don’t do your work, you may feel you’re wasting your money. And coaching relationships create an inherent momentum and energy so that you naturally feel inclined to do what your coach assigns.
Cons and Concerns
But you pay a price for bringing accountability into a coaching relationship, in addition to the issues with accountability in general that I laid out in the What is accountability? article. Let’s look at two potential negatives about working with an accountability coach.
Con: Coaching is no longer a place of total support
Many coaches (like me) and clients want coaching to be a place of warmth, comfort, and support for clients, a space where clients are perfect as they are and can do no wrong. Accountability seriously messes with this. You have something you’re supposed to be doing, something you can fail at doing. If you don’t do your assignments, you can feel like you’re letting your coach down, even if your coach is nice about it.
Of course, some clients want to be pushed and challenged by their coaches. They want their coaches to judge them and call them out if they’re slacking. And some coaches deliberately pour on the guilt and pressure to get their clients into action — and are proud to do it. If you’re in this camp, you’re golden with accountability. But if you’re not, you may want to consider the issue carefully before bringing accountability into your coaching relationship.
Con: Parent/child dynamics
Accountability in coaching (or any) relationship tends to bring in parent/child or teacher/student dynamics. Having your coach ask you if you’ve done your assignment feels a lot like a parent or teacher asking a child if he’s done his homework or chores.
If you haven’t done it, you may feel exactly like you did as a child — embarrassed, defensive, or angry. You may even respond like you did as a child by getting quiet, withdrawing, lashing out at the coach, or defending yourself.
And I’ve seen plenty of coaches use tactics that parents often use, even though they’re not generally that effective, especially over the long run. Things like yelling, guilt trips, sighing in disappointment, threats, negative predictions about your future, insults, and lectures.
Please know that you don’t have to take any sort of verbal abuse or cruelty from a coach. Ever. But if you’d like to avoid these dynamics entirely, you may want to skip the accountability coach and get your accountability elsewhere.
Note: It Only Works When It Works
Accountability is one of those things that, as Yogi Berra might have said, only works when it works. The threat of being embarrassed to report you didn’t do your assignment motivates you to do it. But if you don’t do your assignment and you actually are embarrassed, things just get tense and awkward between you and your coach.
It’s not a big deal if it happens once. But you don’t want to get in a downward spiral where your coach keeps giving you assignments and you keep not doing them. You get more and more embarrassed and uncomfortable, and the coach gets more and more frustrated and disappointed (and maybe a bit angry).
The key rule of accountability is — if it’s not working, make a change. Quickly. Hopefully, your coach won’t let a situation like this drag on, but if she isn’t stopping it, I suggest you do.
My recommendation is to stop this cycle after two or three rounds, at most. Let’s say your coach gives you an assignment, and you don’t do it. Then she gives you an assignment (the same one again or a different one), and you don’t do it. In my view, it’s time to say, “Hey, this assignment thing isn’t working for us. Let’s tweak the process we’re using, change the assignments so they’re a better fit for me, or stop with the assignments completely.”
Client empowerment: You’re still in the driver’s seat
If you decide to work with an accountability coach, please know that the coaching relationship is still about what’s right for you and you have a lot of power. You have every right not to do an assignment. You don’t have to defend yourself or make excuses.
If you don’t do an assignment, you can just say to your coach, “The assignment didn’t work for me, and I didn’t do it.” Maybe you didn’t feel like doing it. Maybe it wasn’t the right assignment for you. Maybe you were too busy.
Whatever reasons you have are legitimate. You’re not in school, where a teacher gives you an assignment with no regard for whether or not you want to do it and punishes you with bad grades and possibly embarrassment if you don’t do it. Coaching assignments are for your benefit. If you get an assignment that doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, you have every right to say “no” to it and to ask your coach for one that’s a better fit.