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5 Non-Confrontational Ways Leaders Keep Their Followers Accountable

Keeping your team accountable without being overbearing can be hard; it doesn't have to be, though.

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I make an amazing peanut butter and jelly sandwich.



It's out of this world.

When I teach people my technique, they usually thank me and go on their way, rejoicing. However, there are always a few that question my process, or even struggle with the concept, asking for hyper-detailed explanations. As you can imagine, it gets frustrating to explain the same thing multiple times. I love making sandwiches, but I don't always love being observed through a microscope while I do it.

Related: Build a Culture of Accountability in 5 Steps

Where am I going with this, exactly?

The fact of the matter is that no one likes to have every step of their work critiqued and questioned -- whether they're making food or turning in a daily report. And yet, it happens every day in the workplace.

How do you manage projects without coming off as pushy and confrontational?

As I've led employees and worked with freelancers, I've learned five tried-and-true methods to instruct, correct and inspire, all without coming across as irritating or overbearing. You'll find them below. If you stick around, I might also reveal the coveted trick behind my legendary sandwiches -- so stay with me.

1. Look for capability.

Before you assign someone a task or review their performance, first assess their capability. Great leaders understand that they can challenge their employees, but as soon as they stretch them too far, they set both parties up for failure.

Related: The 4 Roles of Accountability Within Your Company

Don't assign projects to others that you wouldn't like to take on yourself. Don't ask too much of the people who depend on you.

It's up to leaders to make sure that employees have all the tools they need for success -- from the right technology to the proper support system.

2. Start with clear expectations.

In addition to considering capability, the best leaders have two-way conversations. At the end of any dialogue, both parties should understand what's expected and how success will be measured.

In general, the goals you agree upon should be based on the SMART acronym. Your expectations should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed-upon
  • Realistic
  • Time-based

During this step, some managers like to discuss the negative consequences of missing an objective, but to me this comes dangerously close to carrot-and-stick style -- something I try to avoid at all costs.

Instead, try to work in a conversation about keeping an open dialogue regarding the new assignment. This way, both parties can stay up-to-date and potentially re-define their expectations if necessary.

Related: 5 Keys to Promoting Accountability in Your Business

3. Understand what you can influence.

Managers sometimes mistakenly believe they can convince their teams to be more accountable through rhetoric or intricate systems. This is an understandable aspiration, but it neglects what comes before accountability: commitment.

If your team members don't trust you, they won't commit to your projects. Without that commitment, good luck trying to inspire, correct or teach your employees. Your only choice at that point is to use manipulation or fear -- and that's not ideal, remember?

If your employees like you, they'll be accountable naturally, because they'll be talking to you all the time. Especially if you're new to a team, start by focusing on improving commitment, rather than accountability.

4. Use conversation, not confrontation.

When I was growing up, my parents would take me out to dinner when I was in trouble. We would talk about what I'd done wrong. They might have thought that the food would help make the conversation more pleasant, but ultimately, I just learned to dread going out to dinner. Even now, I still get a little nervous when one of them asks if I'm hungry.

Did you think I queued this story up to transition into my incredible sandwich recipe? Sorry. We're not there quite yet.

Turns out, my parents' behavior was the opposite of what a great leader ought to do. Instead of saving up grievances and confronting an employee all at once, leaders have smaller conversations that provide guidance and correct behaviors before they become real issues.

Related: How to Increase Accountability Without Breathing Down People's Necks

5. Give feedback.

The importance of ongoing, open feedback during projects is paramount. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't schedule a final review. Discuss whether your goals were successfully achieved and ask about their experience. Again, the best format for this discussion is a two-way conversation. Both parties should give feedback to properly assess the project's outcomes.

At the end of the day, the two words to remember are trust and communication. If you emphasize these two principles, you won't find it hard to keep employees accountable.

Oh, and I almost forgot ... the secret to the best PB&J of all time is cream cheese. That's it -- plain cream cheese. Just spread it on the bread before the jam, and stick it to the peanut butter. It might sound gross, but I promise, it will amaze you.

Trust me.

Have you found better ways to keep employees accountable? Did you try the sandwich? Let me know in the comments section below.

Related Video: The Goal Standard Challenge: How to Ensure You Get Results With Your Accountability Group

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