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Three Steps For Holding People Accountable With Compassion

Written by: Nathan Regier, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Nathan Regier

Accountability is critical for maintaining integrity and achieving results. But effectively holding people accountable requires an evolved understanding and practice of compassion.

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As a leader, do you crave better follow-through and focus on priorities in your organization? Do you also care deeply about your people and want to build stronger connections? Compassion is critical for building safe and inclusive work cultures.

Holding people accountable or building relationships? Which do you choose?

When push comes to shove and the stakes are high, which one do you choose; accountability or compassion? Everyone has a default; which is yours?

Here’s the problem. Compassion without accountability gets you nowhere. Leaders can’t nicey-nice their way to a high-performing culture. But accountability without compassion gets you alienated. Leaders also can’t rely on fear and intimidation as the default motivation tactic.

Leaders who practice compassion without accountability

  • Believe empathy and support are enough.

  • Avoid difficult conversations.

  • Compromise their own boundaries.

  • Don’t execute proper consequences.

  • Live by mottos like “Be nice,” “Don’t hurt other people’s feelings,” “Don’t raise your voice.”

  • Get consensus but not commitment.

  • Have a team with poor follow-through.

  • Experience problems that never get solved.

  • Are liked but not respected.

Leaders who practice accountability without compassion

  • Believe rules and consequences are enough.

  • Use threats and passive-aggressive tactics.

  • Have all the answers.

  • Live by mottos like “Failure is not an option,” “Don’t show weakness,” or “Do it because I said so.”

  • Get compliance, but not loyalty.

  • Have low trust teams who compete against each other.

  • Are feared but not respected.

Choosing one over the other only causes drama. How much is drama costing you? Try our free Drama Calculator and receive helpful tips to turn things around.

What does top talent want from leaders?

Leaders no longer get to choose between compassion and accountability. This generation wants both in full measure.

Research on employee engagement and retention reveals that millennials and Gen-Zers have different wants and needs. The table below, taken from my new book, Compassionate Accountability: How Leaders Build Connection and Get Results, summarizes the difference between the old paradigm of leadership and what the new generation wants and needs.



My paycheck

My purpose

My satisfaction

My development

My boss

My coach

My annual review

My ongoing conversations

My weaknesses

My strengths

​My job

My life

Notice as you read the areas of focus on the left that almost all of them lean towards accountability. Only one leans toward compassion; satisfaction. None of them capture both. Now look at the list on the right. Every one of these wants and needs requires a blend of compassion and accountability.

Three steps for holding people accountable with compassion

The only way to reconcile the dilemma of accountability vs. compassion is to recognize that they aren’t in conflict. Compassion actually originates from the Latin root meaning “to suffer with.” Compassion means walking with others through the struggles, through the conflict, through the pain.

Accountability isn’t something we do TO others, it’s something we do WITH others. Compassion includes accountability.

Holding people accountable with compassion becomes possible when we embrace an evolved definition of compassion.

Compassion is the practice of demonstrating that people are valuable, capable, and responsible in every interaction.

What does this look like in daily interactions?

1. Treat people as valuable

People are unconditionally valuable. Everyone deserves to be valued for who they are as a person, no strings attached.

  • Validate experiences: Listen to your people, hear their concerns, and don’t judge their experiences or feelings. Employees want to feel heard and affirmed.

  • Get vulnerable: Share your joys and fears. Let people know how you are really dong. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human.

  • Separate the person from their behavior: Valuing a person for who they are doesn’t meaning letting the behavior slide. But it does mean upholding dignity and respect, even during difficult conversations about performance.

2. Treat people as capable

Anyone can be part of the solution. Our unique qualities, skills, and experiences deserve to be affirmed, and we deserve the opportunity to contribute, learn, and grow in a collaborative environment.

  • Seek first to understand: Talk less, listen more, get curious.

  • Invite people to be part of the solution: Nothing invites ownership more than being included at the ground level.

  • Turn failures into learning opportunities: Create a safe space where people can experiment, fail, learn, and grow. In this article, Marguerite Thibodeaux shares some great examples of how to have these conversations.

3. Treat people as responsible

Everyone is responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Regardless of what happened before, we are each 100 percent responsible for what we do next. No more, no less.

  • Respect boundaries: Stop over-thinking, -feeling, and -doing for others. You are accountable to your people, but they are responsible for their behaviors.

  • Ask others to step up: It’s OK to have high standards and to ask for commitments without fear or intimidation.

  • Prioritize and focus: Keep your eye on the guiding principles of your organization. Don’t get distracted by petty power struggles and tangents.

Examples of holding people accountable with compassion

See if you can identify where Value, Capability, and Responsibility are upheld in these statements.

“Thank you for sharing your struggle with me. What kind of support would be most helpful for you? Meeting the Friday deadline is not negotiable.”

“I felt embarrassed and angry earlier when you shared our personal conversation with the client. In my eyes it undermined our professionalism. In the future will you please refrain from sharing personal stuff without my consent?”

“I get it. Back channel conversations can be so frustrating. I’m willing to coach you on how to bring this up with your co-worker, but I won’t do it for you. It is your responsibility to work through these conflicts directly and professionally.”

How could you use this framework to talk about tough issues, like social justice or diversity. Gen Z cares and wants to have these conversations.

Compassionate Accountability is the process of building connections WHILE getting results. No compromises.

When leaders walk into each interaction with the attitude and intention of affirming value, capability, and responsibility, they can hold people accountable while actually building stronger and more trusting relationships.

Get your copy of Nate’s book and start building your culture of compassionate accountability.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube, and visit my website for more info!

Nathan Regier Brainz Magazine

Nathan Regier, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nate Regier, Ph.D. is the CEO of Next Element, a global leadership consultancy helping companies build cultures of Compassionate Accountability through culture diagnostics, consulting, training, and train-the-trainer certifications. Nate is the author of four books on leadership, compassion, and culture. In his newest book, Compassionate Accountability: How Leaders Build Connection and Get Results, Nate outlines the roadmap for the next generation of leaders and thriving workplace cultures. He hosts a podcast called OnCompassion with Dr. Nate, is a sought-after top-100 keynote speaker, and appears on multiple podcasts and industry publications.



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