If You Want People to Be Accountable, Don’t Ride the Bicycle For Them

As a default mechanism leaders want to tell people what to do and how to do it. Coaching, on the other hand, is about listening, asking questions and patiently guiding people to discover the answers for themselves.

It’s a lot like teaching a child to ride a bike. Your daughter says, “I want to ride a two-wheeler.” It’s her goal. You’re there to help her achieve her goal. So you take the training wheels off. You find a flat, soft surface, such as a lawn. You demonstrate bike riding. You stand next to her, hold the saddle, and point her in the right direction. You run alongside for a while. But she’s the one pedaling. Otherwise, she’d never learn to ride.

Likewise, you must let your team members learn, and ride—and fall off—on their own.
One of the mistakes parents (and leaders) make is holding on to the saddle too long.

As part of your leadership accountability, your job is to help each person on your team to take personal responsibility for his or her behaviors, actions and results. Your responsibility is to guide and assist them in working toward their professional goals, and to eliminate the barriers to achieving those goals. You’re there to empower them. You’re not there to do it for them.

You can’t empower people by telling them what to do. And that’s the real essence of coaching – empowerment. To empower is to give people power and authority, or remind them of their power and authority.

To enable is traditionally defined as “to provide someone with the resources, authority, or opportunity to do something; to make something possible or feasible.”

Some leaders enable people to remain dependent or lackadaisical. If, for instance, someone handles a project poorly, and you re-do it yourself, you’re enabling that person to remain unskilled. Instead of empowering them to grow, learn, or develop, you’ve done their work for them, and actually hindered their progress.

As part of your commitment to empower, not enable, you’ll want to include this concept in your Upfront Agreement. The Upfront Agreement is a pact established at the beginning of a relationship that you design together with each team member, outlining your commitments, responsibilities and preferences for how you’ll work together.

As part of that Upfront Agreement, you might say: I’m not going to make decisions for you. I’m going to coach you to make your own decisions. I’m going to help you achieve your goals, and to do that, I’ll be asking you questions and supporting you along the way. I won’t ride the bicycle for you. I will run along side of you and help and support and guide you. I expect you to make mistakes. I look forward to discussing those mistakes, and learning from them together.

Has a CEO, senior partner or managing partner ever said anything like that to you? How would your work life had been different if they had? You can choose to be that sort of leader.

The material in this article was adapted from my book, The Accountability Factor: The Buck Starts Here. You can get your own copy at: