I believe everyone needs an accountability partner at some point. We need them to keep us on track to achieve a fitness goal, to help us through those often-rocky early years of parenthood, to motivate us to ace the final exam, to push us to improve our personal relationships, and to keep us on the path to being the best business professionals we can be. Accountability partners truly are part of the “secret sauce” that makes those rockstar financial planners we see and admire so dang amazing. They’re definitely not going it alone! And you shouldn’t either.
You might have considered seeking out an accountability partner before, but perhaps it’s been just an “idea” for a bit too long. Most people go about finding an accountability partner incorrectly. It’s like we’re all just sitting around, waiting for someone who will relentlessly hold us accountable (read: calling us on our crap while still being our loudest cheerleader) to fall out of the sky and into our lives. Sometimes it works this way, but usually it doesn’t. Like most good things in this life: you have to work for it.
What’s an Accountability Partner?
Let’s start with the basics: you can’t find a world-class accountability partner if you don’t know what they are. At our core, we are social creatures. We crave the connection that comes with discussing our goals and revisiting them regularly with another individual.
I believe that accountability partners can come in all shapes and sizes - and you have to find the type of partnership that works best for you. In some cases, you’ll work with someone who’s already close to you. In other cases, it works best to plug into a larger group of people who all actively cheer each other on and offer a variety of perspectives and solutions to help you over, under, or around your roadblocks.
Whatever type of accountability partnership you seek out, the arrangement should include a few key things:
- An ability to remain objective and unbiased. This is important for both parties. Your business is not their business, and vice versa. What works for you won’t work for them, and you need to walk into the relationship knowing that. You’re not trying to grow to the same goals - and that’s fine.
- Dedication. You both need to be dedicated to one another, and to yourselves. I’ve heard too many stories of people who started to meet with or speak to an accountability partner only to have the relationship fizzle. Their hearts were in the right place, but life “got in the way.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t make a good accountability partner. They should be willing to give you some grace where grace is needed, but ultimately you both need to be dedicated to the relationship and to keeping each other on track.
- Respect. Again, you need to respect each other - and yourselves. Connecting with an accountability partner means you’re signing on to a serious relationship. This partnership can push you to great things, but only if you two respect one another’s goals, lifestyles, business models - you get the picture. DO NOT connect with an accountability partner who disparages you, or who talks down your goals. Your goals are enough - you are enough. Find someone who knows that and wants to help you achieve the life and business you want.
As always, “why” may be the most important question you ask before diving into the accountability partner search. There are several reasons you might seek out an accountability partner, and all of them are valid. A few common triggers that might send you into your search are:
- You’re falling behind
- You feel alone or lonely
- You’re drowning in work
- You need help
- You’re not growing the way you want to grow
All of these are excellent reasons to find a partner to hold you accountable. But they’re not enough. You need to dig a little deeper to find your why before you’ll be able to find a partner who’s a good fit for you. It’s time for a little bit of introspection. Break out a pen and paper; let’s do this the old fashioned way!
Make a list of the things you’re not happy with in your business (or your life) right now. Get specific. For this exercise, nothing is irrelevant. I don’t care if you list two things or twenty - we’ll weed out the ones that aren’t applicable later. Ready? Go!
There are a three categories your “why’s” might fall into:
- Your business
- Your personal life
An accountability partner can help you with all of these - just maybe not all at the same time. Let’s break them down.
If you have some big, hairy goals for your business - you need an accountability partner to help keep you on track, encourage you, and help you brainstorm unique ways of getting it done. Your business goals can be metrics-based, or they can be something more general - a feeling you want to achieve.
Whether you want to focus on improved marketing strategies, signing new clients, raising fees, or something else, determine why those goals are important to you and what you need to do to get there. Communicating this to your accountability partner will be key.
Your Personal Life
Not every business owner wants to have their work be all-consuming. Sometimes we veer off track and find ourselves in front of a laptop screen at 2 AM when we should be, you know, sleeping. Or we feel as though we’ve missed valuable time with our kids, our spouses, or our friends.
An accountability partner worth their salt will be able to hold you accountable for not only your business goals, but for achieving the work-life balance you deem is right for you. Decide on some concrete steps you want to take toward regaining balance in your personal life, whether that’s hitting the gym a certain number of times per week or wrapping up work by 5 PM each day. Communicate these to your accountability partner. (See a pattern here? Communication is key.)
Maybe your goals aren’t as concrete. It’s noble to want to work on yourself, but much harder to communicate that to someone who’s supposed to hold you accountable. Decide what areas of your life you want to grow in such as confidence, adventure, or getting in touch with causes you’re passionate about. Brainstorm some activities that might help get you there. If you want to grow your confidence at work and at home, set a goal to speak about financial planning at a local event. If you want to be more spontaneous, set a goal to try a new recipe each week or book a trip to somewhere you never thought about visiting before.
Your accountability partner may not be able to help you discern what to work on, but he or she can cheer you on and set goals to help you achieve that growth. Don’t shy away from communicating how you feel about your journey.
You can find a great accountability partner in so many different places. Some options are going to be better than others, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do some digging to find the person who’s the right fit for you. Don’t give up if your first choice isn’t interested or isn’t giving you the feedback you need.
A Spouse or Friend
This is a so-so option. Although it might seem like a fantastic idea to connect with someone you know and love, it can also make for a not-very-motivating relationship. It’s easy to get together with a friend and just chat about what’s going on in your world. It’s harder to schedule time together to review your goals. Your friend may be unable to give you the tough love you may need to push past barriers. It’s also a lot to ask of a friend to be this person for you; they may not know what they’re signing up for, which isn’t fair to either party.
This is a slightly better option than a friend or spouse, but still not your best bet. Yes, this is coming from a coach. Don’t get me wrong, I believe everyone and their brother needs a coach at some point in their life. But a coach won’t always be able to offer the camaraderie you may need to move the needle. Coaches are, at their core, there to train you. Yes, they hold you accountable, but they may or may not be going through your same experiences.
A Networking Group
This is a better option than a coach or a friend/spouse. Networking groups, either through your local small business association or another group, can be wonderful! You can even get involved in an online community if you don’t want to attend meetings in person. Groups can also be helpful because you receive multiple people’s insight and support - which can be fantastic. However, groups also lack that personal one-on-one connection that makes an accountability partnership successful.
This is, by far, your best option. You can choose a colleague who is in your same industry or niche or even a fellow business owner who is at a similar point in his or her career. They’ll be able to provide the one-on-one connection you need and offer you personal insights tailored to your unique goals, which will motivate you both in the short and long term. Building a one-on-one relationship with an accountability partner is a beautiful thing; you two could stay close for a very long time. Heck, they’ll know you better than a lot of people - and vice versa!
It’s one thing to decide the type of person you want as your accountability partner and another to go out and find them. You might be asking: Where on Earth do I start?
The good news is you have so many options! Here are just a few ways you can get started on your accountability partner search:
- Tap your resources. Are you a member of XY Planning Network, NAPFA, FPA, a small business association, the local chamber of commerce, or any number of other online or in-person communities? Reach out to them! Ask if anyone is interested in an accountability partnership, and communicate what you’re seeking.
- Engage your network. You’ve probably already met your accountability partner. They’re probably hanging out on LinkedIn right now, just waiting for you to shoot them a message. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but the point remains: tap into your network. You might be surprised by who responds.
- Ask a coach. Seriously, there’s nothing I love more than seeing two people connect, hit it off, and start holding each other accountable to reach some seriously awesome goals. Coaches know a lot of people in your same boat. They’ll at least be able to guide you in the right direction.
Finding and building a relationship with your accountability partner is a bit of an art form. Luckily, you can break it down into bite-sized steps to make things a little less overwhelming. The first step should be to find the right person.
We’ve talked about who you should look for, where to find them, and what role they should play. Finding the right person is a lot harder in practice. Before you start your search, get clear on what you need. Make those tough “why” decisions ahead of time so you know what you need to get out of the relationship.
When you talk to potential accountability partners, be really open about what you need and what you don’t need. For example, if you know you want help growing your business but you don’t want someone to perpetually tell you to try a new software/tool to help get you there - be honest about that. Only you can know what’s going to turn you off and what’s not.
Once you know what you’re seeking, start asking around. You might find a few people you’d like to chat with, so don’t be afraid to set up some initial calls. Keep an open mind. Just because someone runs a different kind of business, has different goals, or a personality type that doesn’t exactly match yours, doesn’t mean they won’t be the right accountability partner for you.
You’re not looking for someone who’s the same as you. You’re looking for someone who respects you, is committed to helping you reach your goals (and committed to their own), and is ready to dive in.
Set Expectations Early
If you each walk into the accountability partnership without expectations, you might be unpleasantly surprised at what the other person expects of you. Be upfront about what you need and about what you can provide. If you want ramifications if you don’t stick to your goals, you need to let your partner know that you’ll need them to be held accountable in the way you need.
It’s also important to set expectations about how strictly you want to stick to your goals. A lot of aspects of business and life evolve with time. Do you want the flexibility to change your goals?
Finally, you need to set an expectation for where and how often you’ll meet. Are you two phone buddies? Do you call weekly? Monthly? Personally, I recommend a monthly check-in to make sure everyone is staying on track. But if you’re tackling a big goal, you may need more communication at the onset of your relationship. You should also define what’s appropriate communication and what’s not. Is it okay for you two to text each other periodically? How about email?
Don’t Be Selfish
It’s exciting to have an accountability partner you can trust to help you grow, but you have to remember this is exciting for them, too. Walking into an accountability relationship with a selfish mindset isn’t good. You need to remember this relationship isn’t one-sided. If you’re not ready to commit some serious time and effort to support your partner and their needs, you’re going to stink as an accountability partner.
To make sure you’re being the partner they need, take some time to examine their business and goals. Ask them thoughtful questions about how they approach their business, what goals they want to achieve, and what it will mean to them to achieve those goals. Get their “why” and ask them how you can help support them best.
Keep in mind they might need a different kind of support than the kind you need. Make sure they know you’re committed to them if they ever need to change how your partnership operates to better support what they need.
Don’t Slough Responsibility
Once you enter into an accountability partnership, you have a responsibility to both yourself and your partner to keep things moving in the right direction. Treat your partnership as a professional relationship, and incorporate your tasks, check-in calls, and meeting prep as a professional responsibility that takes priority on your to-do list. Neither of you will get anything out of this relationship if you perpetually stall or blow off meetings.
Don’t Treat This Like a Mentorship
You should partner with someone who you respect and who respects you, but don’t treat this like a mentorship. The person (or people) you partner with should be on your level in some way. You should be helping each other grow, and you should all treat one another as though you’re on the same playing field. Nobody has the upper hand here. Although you’ll definitely learn from each other, it’s a mutual experience.
Set a Check-In Deadline At The Beginning
It’s wise to set a “check-in” deadline at the beginning of your relationship to decide if your partnership is working. Set a clear list of things you’ll use to evaluate the partnership such as a list of goals or a certain number of meetings.
When in doubt, go with your gut. If you or your partner don’t feel like you’re getting what you need out of this relationship, it’s time to move on. There are other people out there who could be an amazing fit for you.
The only question we have left to answer is, “When?” There is never a perfect time to make an effort to grow, improve, or connect with someone to help you do those things. It will always be difficult to find a window in your calendar for another meeting or to block out time to truly focus on your goals. Ask yourself: If not now, when?
The answer to When? should be obvious: right now! An accountability partner can positively impact your life in such a big way. Don’t waste another minute struggling forward by yourself. Stop getting in your own way. Start looking for an accountability partner today before you talk yourself out of it. You deserve this.
About Arlene Moss, Executive Coach
Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.
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