How to Balance Accountability and Relationships

women in leadershipHow do you ensure a balance in your company between maintaining good relationships with employees AND holding them accountable when they fall short in their conduct or performance. In other words, how do we avoid allowing our compassion for an individual’s circumstances to completely overrule their individual accountability and vice versa.

It is not an “either/or”. It is indeed a balancing act between both: compassion for individuals and accountability to the group or company.

One side of continuum, a leader might set the tone that focuses on maintaining the employee relationship and possibly being too compassionate to the employee’s circumstances. When this happens, you hear management make excuses for why the employee failed and/or why they didn’t address it.

On the other side of the spectrum, a leader might set the tone that focuses on strict accountability with no excuses. This is a straight forward equation where individual employees will hear about it when their conduct or performance fails regardless of the conditions the employee was operating under.

To find the balance, leaders would do well to balance both accountability with compassion for the individual’s situation. This is the ability to recognize that each individual is accountable to perform to standard and to conduct themselves to company norms tempered with a consideration of the facts and circumstances, including whether the employee knew and understood expectations and had the control and capacity to perform or conduct themselves accordingly.

So who do you need to be to lead this balance? In a nutshell, you ensure mindful accountability when you lead from a place of intentionality, confidence, and calm.


This is behaving “on purpose”. Choosing your response in each moment rather than reacting with words, behavior or tone that shows you forgot who you are. It starts with being clear about your individual and company values and vision as well as the plan created to move company goals forward. When you are intentional, you constantly and consistently focus and re-focus others on the fundamental “why” and the “what” every day. If warranted, you may need to modify your plan, but only after intentional, thoughtful consideration of changing conditions, not as a knee jerk reaction.


When you are confident, you come from a place of strength and assurance. Whatever your confidence level, you telegraph it with your body language, emotions, and tone of voice, even when you don’t say specific words about confidence. You carry yourself and engage in conversations as if to say, “I’ve got this. It’s under control.”

To show confidence, you must avoid broadcasting negative emotions in reaction to setbacks or uncertainty. Negative emotions, such as fear, anger, depression, anxiety, shame, hate, etc. are signs that you are not confident. In the animal world, negative energy is a sign of weakness, and since we are animals and have brain structures similar to other mammals, we are sensitive to someone’s state based on these negative emotions. When you emit negative emotion, you aren’t relying on your executive function, which is logical and analytical. Instead, you are coming from more primitive brain structures, and your workforce on a subconscious level is perceiving that you are not coming from a place of strength.

To come from a place of strength, you have to stay confident and steady, or in other words, balanced. (According to Amy Cuddy, you can increase feelings of confidence by changing your body language using the “Super Hero” pose – standing with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart with your hands on your hips.)


When you are calm you are able to remain centered no matter what is going on around you. This comes from a belief that things will work out in the end. To adopt a calmer disposition, remain in observation mode, taking in the things outside yourself but recognizing them for what they are – temporary events that will ebb and flow. Don’t get sucked in to the drama of the moment. Breathe deep, stay focused on the outcome you want, and keep others focused on the values and principles that are important. It helps to see the good intentions that others have underneath their words and actions, even when they come across wrong or falter in the actions.

Leadership is not a destination – it’s a journey. Your company is the perfect playground to learn more about yourself and your ability to create intentional accountability. You can have solid accountability in your company without compromising relationships. It’s up to you to model it by staying intentional, confident and calm regardless of the situations that arise.

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