The Accountability Conundrum

By Anne Sigman

Accountability is a big word for some people (six syllables, in fact), and for many entrepreneurs it creates a complex relationship. 

We aren’t built like everyone else. Most people are content to gain the education and experience they need to reach their life goals, and they settle into a career that hopefully lasts a lifetime—maybe with a midlife career change to spice things up. 

But that’s not for us. 

Entrepreneurs have something deep inside of them that is driving them. For some it’s a dream, for others it’s something to prove, and for many it’s simply the opportunity to call their own shots. 

One of the great ironies I see in working with so many entrepreneurs over the years is that although many of us initially recoil from the outside accountability structures that come with working for someone else, we start our own businesses, which requires us to take our relationship with accountability to a whole new level. 

Suddenly, as the owner of a small business, you are calling the shots…all of them. And with every decision you make—the good ones, the bad ones, and the ones you’d rather not talk about—wherever you look, well, there you are.

Any experienced business owner or executive coach will tell you: If you really want to get to know yourself, start a business. When you do, you begin a journey of personal growth that there are few other ways to experience. And if you really want your business to be successful, then continually get to know yourself better. There’s a strong relationship between self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and success in entrepreneurship, and at the core of it all is your personal relationship to accountability. 

Successful entrepreneurs are people who are inwardly motivated

They don’t need outside influences to “push” them, because they push themselves so hard from the inside that it often takes them to the limits of what they can stand. Those “intrepreneurs” who want to be entrepreneurs are operating in an outside accountability structure that they don’t really need in order to be successful. They stay for the mentorship and the experience, and then spread their wings and go work for themselves.

We find ourselves building start-ups, founding and running businesses, and usually working far more hours than we did as an employee, but without complaint, because we’re “working for ourselves” and that works fine for us. 

Until it doesn’t. 

Maybe the company isn’t growing the way we thought it would. Or, maybe it’s a runaway success financially, but we’re having trouble keeping pace with it personally, and leading at the level required to continue the trajectory. Perhaps the ups and downs of owning a business are more than we anticipated, whether emotionally, financially or otherwise. 

No matter what the issue is…

We are the issue. We’re responsible. We’re accountable: to the client…to our employees and subcontractors…to our strategic partners, our vendors, our creditors, our families. And most importantly, to ourselves. 

Our success as entrepreneurs is largely bound up in our success at finding personal accountability structures that work for us as we are now, as small business owners who have gone through the initial stages of entrepreneurial autonomy and have grown into a different set of challenges than a start-up or a single-shingle consulting firm might have. 

Partners at Clark Leadership often say, “We’re not in the business of answers. We’re in the business of asking meaningful questions” so clients can discover the answers for themselves. 

I want to ask you, “What are your current goals for your business, and how are you holding yourself accountable to the achievement of them?” 

For many, the answer to the latter is “I’m not,” and that has a lot to do with why so many companies are off goal, falling behind, or failing to keep up with the demands of growth: the owner isn’t holding himself or herself accountable, or has outgrown previous accountability structures that worked at an earlier stage of development. It begs the question: if the owners aren’t holding themselves accountable, then who is? 

Moreover, if the owner isn’t holding himself or herself accountable, then what message does that send to the employees, partners, and other stakeholders in and contributors toward the company’s success? 

We are accountable for accountability itself

“Finding your way to growth” means finding comfort in new accountability structures, even when it’s outside of your comfort zone—especially when it’s outside of your comfort zone, because that’s where growth happens.

If that sounds like a place you’d like to be with your business, then I personally invite you to contact me for a Discovery Session to talk about your business goals, and how you intend to reach them. If we both feel there’s a fit, I’ll take you on as a coaching client, and perhaps invite you to visit one of the peer advisory groups I lead where you’ll experience a whole new level of accountability and achievement.

If neither I, nor one of my Partners’ groups is a fit, it’s okay. The key is that you’re growing your relationship to accountability as a means of growing your business, and finding your way to growth. 

Anne Sigman, Partner 

Clark Leadership

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