Woman leader at table

Develop Accountable People

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

I have found that most managers fear the conversations they must have with those employees who, despite high performance and effort, are blind to the negative impact they have on others.

Case in point: Years ago, I worked with a health clinic whose director was brilliant — possibly the best clinician I’ve ever met. The way she went about her work, however, caused all kinds of problems for others. She had unwittingly divided the facility into two camps: those she considered her friends and those she didn’t. She would sabotage the efforts of those not in her camp and promote those on the inside. The “body count,” as those familiar with the situation called it, was staggeringly high. When the boss finally decided to let her go, she was shocked. “Haven’t I done my job and more?” she asked. “What more do you want from me?”

Indeed, experience tells us that most people tend to approach their work in a self-focused way—what we call an “inward mindset.” They see others as vehicles they can use to achieve their own objectives as roadblocks they can blame when something doesn’t go their way, or as irrelevancies they can ignore. Because they tend to think about their job as nothing more than achieving their own performance objectives, they’re not interested in others’ needs and objectives. Consequently, they let themselves off the hook for — or are simply blind to — the negative effects they might have on others in the organization.

Here's the good news: As an individual becomes alive to the reality and humanity of the people around them, they become more curious about others’ objectives, needs, and challenges. And they become more interested in how their own work impacts the success of the people around them.


A leader can accelerate this transformation by helping employees understand that their job is to work in a way that helps others be more successful. When individuals and organizations shift from an inward mindset to an outward mindset, employees focus on collective results rather than their own individual objectives. They are aware of and curious about others’ needs and goals and are constantly adjusting their efforts to be more helpful to others.


Want to learn more about the power of mindset and how it drives self-accountable behaviors? Join me at ATD 2019 Conference & EXPO for the session, Don’t Hold People Accountable—Develop Accountable People. We will explore how most attempts to hold people accountable actually reinforce a self-focused mindset, and how to apply a new performance management model that invites and sustains self-accountability.

Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from the HR Leader article, “Stop Holding People Accountable. Develop Accountable People.” HR Leader is the official publication of the Human Resources Management Association of Chicago.

About the Author

Mitch Warner is a bestselling author and Arbinger managing partner with a background in healthcare and organizational turnaround. Mitch is the co-author of Arbinger’s latest bestseller, The Outward Mindset. He writes frequently on the practical effects of mindset at the individual and organizational levels as well as the role of leadership in transforming organizational culture and results. Mitch is an expert on the topics of mindset and culture change, leadership, strategy, performance management, organizational turnaround, and conflict resolution.

Mitch is a sought-after speaker to organizations across a broad range of industries, bringing his practical experience to bear for leaders of corporations, governments, and organizations across the globe. Specific clients include NASA, Citrix, Aflac, the U.S. Army and Air Force, the Treasury Executive Institute, and Intermountain Healthcare. In his role as managing partner, Mitch directs the development of Arbinger’s intellectual property, training, and consulting programs, and highly customized large-scale organizational change initiatives. He has been instrumental in Arbinger’s rapid growth, including its expanding international presence in nearly 30 countries. Mitch received a BA in philosophy and is a licensed nursing administrator. Trained in fine art at the Art Students League and the National Academy, he spends much of his free time painting. His work hangs in organizations nationwide.

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