Frightened of missing deadlines? Your plan is in shreds. Your entrepreneur’s reputation is at risk?
Have you ever had one of those days when you want to do anything – I mean anything – but the task in hand? Motivation for the next important task on your critical path has gone out of the window. I have had those days. I have been there. And I am sure others reading this have as well.
You are an Entrepreneur, you are the CEO of your business – you have a schedule, and you have a long list of tasks that are demanding. People clamor for your time. Customers and suppliers require your attention. You need space to think, and you are not getting it. You have written down your 100-day plan, and you know it contains some clear imperatives.
But, there is just something else that you want to do! Stress and task conflict have come to reside on your desk. When the going gets tough, your staff, your co-workers, your managers have someone to turn to, but not you. You are alone? And it is not the fun you expected start up life to be! Do you recognize the situation? Fear not, the answer is here.
Your Social Buddy is Going to be Remodeled!
We know that accountability partners, (a team mate(s), or coaches) have been around in sport for decades, but I do think there is a spin on this concept that may help many Entrepreneurial CEOs. In the general case, the “everyday buddying up” to help someone meet their social and day-to-day targets and challenges – like weight loss, diet adjustment, jogging, or work out targets – brings your accountability partner, or buddy to your side. He/ she is a commonplace friend and they don't need to be a technical and keyed up mentor to be your accountability partner. (I am leaving aside the very elite end of sport – that’s a different discussion). You just need a fellow cheerleader or maybe another one who struggles; together you make a team and there is strength and success in numbers. And you can make sure you keep your obligation to train together – you will feel guilty letting the other person down. You feel positive affirmation when your personal training buddy, your cheerleader urges you onwards to complete your required daily or weekly target. And the social dimension brings added enjoyment.
I have a Solution for You, Entrepreneurial CEO.
We can use the concept of Accountability Partners in an entrepreneurial environment. Recognizing that the challenges faced by Entrepreneurs and CEOs are different to those that Joe Public has when they are jogging in the park, the concept can be easily and effectively translated into a work environment – particular in a start up. When you get to the challenges experienced by an Entrepreneur, a CEO, a business leader, cheerleading is great but definitely not enough. You need to feel that your Accountability Partner has trodden the path before, understands what you are experiencing – because they have “been there and done it, got the t-shirt”. You might think that a solution is a Mentor but, as you will see below, I argue that a mentor – mentee relationship is more about imparting advice and sagely wisdom rather than holding you to account. Step on stage the Accountability Partner. We know that self-motivation is one of the most difficult attributes to maintain consistently. When you are alone and you have a need to consistently perform at your peak, and maybe build new habits you are challenged every minute. You are rising at dawn for a morning work out before charging forward on your business, delivering project after project, maintaining the momentum on a critical path, maintaining focus, and progressing towards your next business goal. But your goals, however worthy, become your nightmare and the faces of procrastination, distraction, not feeling good enough, inconsistency, and impatience haunt your existence. You and your business are in (mortal) danger. There is a problem with maintaining focus? It's not so much what we do when we are with somebody or being observed, it is what we do when there is no one around. And sometimes we fall victim to the need for immediate or early gratification and reward. We go off track; we wander in search of a (temporary) alternative to the long hard lonely road. We find something, some activity, which – because we have subdued the pressure to perform by following a distraction – acts like an injection of a happy drug and an anesthetic. This distraction is powerful enough to temporarily subdue the feeling of remorse and guilt, caused by the knowledge that we should be working. But if we knew we had someone to answer to, a conscience on our shoulder, maybe we would not be so eager to take a break from the grind.
The Lonely Runner
Entrepreneurial CEOs operate at the pinnacle of their chosen field and, when pursuing their goals, like athletes who are elite performers, they live in a program of induced solitude. The singular reliance on self-motivation is the burden of the lonely runner. It takes a special kind of person to consistently maintain focus, energy, attention, effort and a laser like direction towards a goal, while maintaining a tight adherence to a timescale and plan. Not many people can – using their own personal will power and commitment - complete a task. The lesser willed find many creative reasons to be distracted. They must do something different, easier, or more fun - despite knowing, internally, that they are cheating themselves and the diminishing the value the outcome or goal they are originally set out for. Depending on the nature of goal, failure to achieve the task, timescale, and the endgame, can range between catastrophic at one extreme, to mildly irritating at the other. Although, in reality, it never will be mildly irritating because deep down in the subconscious we are aware that we have failed yet again and we have stoked the fire that is extinguishing our self-esteem.
What if that lonely runner, in whatever form he or she manifests (entrepreneur, business leader, CEO) could have someone to whom they could hold themselves accountable – voluntarily - and with whom they would share, privately, the goals and timescales they are pursuing. They would share their actions, and challenges in complete confidence. What if I had a person to whom I choose to be accountable, who I acclaim for their knowledge, impartiality, objectivity, and integrity? And whose capability and experience I respect and applaud. What if you had someone to whom you would privately and confidentially report against your list of top tasks? Where you hold friendly, constructive reviews, where you am challenged and held a task in a mature and respectful manner. When you have completed your program for the week, or the month on time and to budget, you can celebrate some minor achievements. This person is your conscience and your cheerleader; they help you celebrate success, applaud your milestones, and energize you for the next lap. Such a person is YOUR Accountability Partner.
Your External Conscience
Your Accountability Partner is your external conscience; they may assume you have set realistic goals, or challenge you on your targets. They may assess, with you, the realism of your timescale and your endpoints. Don't expect them to be supportive of lackluster performance, low expectations or anything that does not feel consistent with elite performance. To your external conscience you are prepared and willing to give account of your motives, your performance, and be open about what you want to do, why you want to do, when you want to do it, and the constraints that impact how you are going to achieve your plan.
Accountability Partners vs. Mentors vs. the Chairman of your Board
Can the accountability partner be a mentor, and / or the Chairman of your Board? Although I would like to say yes, they possibly can be, the reality is that there are subtle and important differences attached to each roles that makes an effective cross over almost impossible:
• Your accountability partner is your confidential, external conscience. You do not report organizationally to him or her. You are accountable in an informal manner and – if you miss your goals there is no retribution. They certainly may call you to task and help you examine why you have missed your performance goals but they are not going to fire you!
• Mentors have, primarily, a different role. A mentor is an advisor, and counsel. A mentor brings levels of experience and expertise that you do not have. A mentor is pointing you to new thinking, or a new approach. A mentor may be introducing you to others who have expertise that is outside their purview but who may be beneficial to you. Often, the relationship is one of master and student. Mentors seldom hold you to account for your actions and performance.
• If, as an entrepreneur, you have formed your board and set in place a formal reporting structure, The Chairman of the Board is your “boss”. The Chairman is the figurehead of the Board that is set up to protect the shareholders’ interest, he or she also leads the Board to discuss and debate and agree strategy. The accountability relationship to the Board if formal and immutable. There is nothing voluntary about it. If you decide that an accountability partner is a useful asset, deal with that relationship – in a confidential and private manner – outside any other reporting relationship.
How to choose an Accountability Partner
You need to acknowledge that you have to give account to someone else, take personal responsibility, and your motivation to use a partner. That done, find someone who:
• You know is trustworthy, and has integrity, maturity, and dignity,
• You know is challenging and not condemning,
• Has sufficient experience and expertise to understand what you are doing!
• Can articulate, with you, the scenarios that are likely to create problems,
• Has time for you: while you set up regular reporting meet ups (say every two weeks), they can be on call when you need them to be, and
• Will challenge you if you start to use them as a crutch; they will remind you that you have to exercise your personal responsibly.
You may not need an accountability partner on a permanent basis (indeed, it would be wise to set time boundaries – say, six months – to the relationship). Neither you, nor your partner should feel obligated to go into a permanent relationship. Now, it’s up to you. Oh, and you should not expect your Accountability Partner to act without payment. This is not a charitable gesture; it is a professional relationship. If there are fees involved, you both value the time, effort, and will strive for the best results and stay true to commitments and to time spent.
Bill Lewis is a sought after Board advisor and counsel; he is also a renowned entrepreneur, technologist and workshop speaker. An experienced Corporate Executive and Non Executive Director advising Fortune 200 companies, Bill has served on the Boards of five companies, including the Global Board of a major system integrator. A prolific writer on technology, the digital age and entrepreneurship, he is the author of three acclaimed books: Midas and 1000 Cows, 100 Mistakes of a Start Up CEO, and 25 Kickass Lessons for the Budding Entrepreneur and numerous blogs and articles.