Bill and the Shower Curtain – The $10 Obstacle to Accountability

It’s amazing how often we let simple things stop or block us from doing what we want to accomplish. But with some basic accountability practices, we can blast those obstacles right out of the way and make things happen.

Even though it’s been years since I worked with Bill, we had lunch the other week and he told me that he still tells this story about how I helped him get past his stumbling block and stay accountable for his goal.

As you read Bill’s story, think of how you can use the same strategies to help the people on your team. As their leader, it’s your job to listen for their obstacles – and excuses – so that they can get past them and then stay accountable to you for keeping on track.

Bill was the managing partner of a small firm. We’d already been working together for about a year when he built and opened a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility for his business. Since he liked to work out, he invested an additional $6,000 for an exercise gym, decked out with all the latest equipment and even a change room with a shower. As a runner, he figured he’d be in there every day to use the treadmill, at least. He even invited the entire workforce to use the space.

But no one was using the gym. Not even Bill!

At one of our meetings, he was criticizing himself for not holding himself accountable on a sustainable basis. I asked if he wanted some help. He hesitated, and I could tell he was wondering what I could possibly do, as his business coach.

Even though this didn’t sound like a business issue to discuss in an executive consultation session, it definitely was. If you’re not feeling at your best, that’s going to impact your effectiveness as a leader, whether that’s the physical impact of inactivity (fatigue, weight gain, trouble concentrating, etc.) or the emotional impact of constantly feeling bad about yourself.

And Bill was definitely feeling bad about this. Here he had invested all this money, and the equipment was just going to waste.

I asked him, “What is it that’s stopping or blocking you from running on that treadmill?”

He thought for a second, and then he said, “Well, I have a shower, but I don’t have a shower curtain.”

I almost couldn’t believe my ears. A $6,000 exercise facility, and all that stood in his way was a $10 shower curtain. So I gave him an assignment. When you leave here today, go to Walmart or wherever, and buy a shower curtain.

Then I made a request: Will you get into action on this?

Like any request I made in our sessions, Bill could choose to do it, not do it, or give me a counter-offer of another action. There’s no request police, and you don’t have to stay after school.

I put Bill on a 21-day routine, based on the premise that it takes us 21 days to break an old habit or develop a new habit. Every day for 21 days, Bill had to email me to tell me he’d ridden on the treadmill.

As his accountability partner, it’s like I became his exercise partner as well, running right alongside him on that treadmill. If he missed a day, he had to start counting again at Day One. And that happened a couple of times, but he just picked himself up and kept going.

He finally reached 21 days, and that was six years ago now. And he still sustains his daily workout habit to this day.

Is there a $10 shower curtain standing in the way of YOUR success? If you want to get back on your treadmill, contact Alan M. Dobzinski about meeting facilitation or executive consultation for managing partners and leaders of professional services firms.