Can you hear accountability?

How do leaders and managers ensure accountability in their team and what are the signs of a lack of accountability?

Can you hear the language of accountability at work?

Does this sound familiar?

Team leader: Can you get this done by the end of the day?

Team member: I’ll do my best but I’m pretty busy.

Do you have confidence the task will be done?

Another way

Team leader: I need this done by 5 today. Can you meet that deadline?

Team member: It might be difficult I have 2 other deadlines.

Team leader: Well, this is a priority. How can I help?

What about now? Confident the task will be done?

Learning points

If you want your team to be accountable, you need to give them clear expectations.

If you give specific expectations, you’ll receive specific answers.

Don’t give or accept vague deadlines.


ARP – Analyse – Revise – Perform


Listen to yourself

Do you set clear objectives?
Do you give vague promises?

Listen to your team

Do they say yes or no directly?
Do they say ‘I’ll try’ or I’ll do my best’?


When you think:

‘as soon as possible’ or ‘ by the end of the day’


‘By 5pm’ or, even better, ‘when can you do this by?’

If your team replies ‘I’ll try’ ask ‘What help do you need to meet the deadline?’


Next time you set a task:

  • Be clear
  • Be specific
  • Expect clear responses
  • Follow up vague replies and offer help

4 thoughts on “Can you hear accountability?

  1. I remember learning during a coach training session, when we hear someone say “I’ll try” it’s a get out for when the thing is not done. The speaker doesn’t really believe they will / can do what they say they will try to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. You’re absolutely right. This is a classic face saving device where, by not committing to the task, I give myself an inbuilt excuse if I fail to achieve it.

      As Michael says, it sometimes means nothing but I think managers and coaches would do well to pick up on this type of face saving language and question why it was used and what it says about the team member/coachee’s mindset and motivation.


  2. With deadlines I sometimes say that I doubt I’ll be able to meet it, or that I’ll try. However, I usually find that I get things done well within the deadline when needed. So in this way, it’s more about what you do than what you say.If team leaders know their team really well, they might allow for such a deficit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Michael, Thanks for commenting and reading. I agree with you that some people just speak this way. It’s fairly common in the UK with our famous understatement. However, statements like ‘I’ll try’ do perform a face saving function. If you don’t meet the deadline, you have a get out of jail card because you avoided committing to the task.

      I agree with you that managers should judge people on their actions and not their language but I also think that team members who do use such face saving language might benefit from using more direct language, particularly if they have a new boss or work at distance and don’t have a strong personal relationship with their boss.

      Finally, I’d just like to ask that although you always meet the deadline, by always saving face, how do others perceive you and how might those perceptions change if showed more accountability in your language?


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