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Stop Making Excuses

stop making excuses

What gets in the way of holding yourself accountable? Personal Accountability seems simple and yet can be so difficult. The stakes are high when we are not accountable: lost trust, diminished credibility, lost self-confidence, damaged relationships and compromised results. Accountability does matter and can support or destroy our success.

Three Common Excuses

Here are three common excuses related to ‘time’ and three tips to move past those excuses. I warn you, they sound like ‘simple’ tips, and yet we don’t model them consistently.


This is always at the top of everyone’s list. Yet, we all have 86,400 seconds every day; why can’t we manage that time?

The Excuses sound like:

  • There is not enough time in any given day; there are far too many competing priorities.
  • Nobody understands how long it takes to accomplish what they are asking of me.
  • I can’t say ‘no’; I love working with the individual who has asked for support even though I know it puts other projects at risk.
  • I love new things so ‘shiny objects’ often distract me, interrupting other commitments.

What is the core challenge? The ability to manage time and set priorities. Simple statement, huge discipline and commitment required to getting it right.

One Simple Tip: Being committed to using your calendar or planner to hold yourself accountable to ‘what matters most’.

  • When you say ‘yes’ to a project, block the estimated working time as ‘appointments’ in your calendar with a goal to complete three days ahead of the deadline.
  • When a request for something new comes in, take time to calculate the time for the new project and determine where it fits in your existing schedule, before you say yes.
  • Ensure you are working on what matters most during your most productive time of day. Check out Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits’.


Setting clear expectations and asking for clarity of expectations supports accountability and it takes time. Without clarity, results are always compromised.

The Excuses

  • I did not realize there was a tight deadline to meet.
  • I was not aware you wanted it in that format.
  • I have been waiting for information from others, so I’ve not been able to meet your deadline.
  • Another project came in that took priority so everything on my plate got shuffled.
What is the core challenge? Not having clarity, when assigning a task or not taking time to communicate clearly. Possibly not allowing time for others to ask questions to clarify.

One Simple Tip: If you are assigning work or saying ‘yes’ to a commitment, take time to clarify expectations with the 5 ‘W’s’. Here are some questions to discern clarity:

  • Why are we doing this work? Why is it important? How does it fit with our strategic direction and goals?
  • Exactly ‘what’ needs to be done and by ‘when’? ‘Who’ else will need to be engaged in this project as a resource or support person?
  • ‘Who’ are the stakeholders who need to be kept advised of progress?
  • ‘What’ format/standard are you expecting?
  • ‘What’ is the reporting schedule to ensure the project moves ahead as planned.
  • ‘What’ might get in the way?
  • ‘When’ there are interruptions that mean you will miss a deadline, share that information as soon as you know, not the day of the deadline. Talk to whomever you committed to and invite conversation about how to make it work for everyone.

Your role as a leader is to ensure mutual understanding of expectations. It does take time, but it is guaranteed to save you time chasing information or missing a deadline.


You have assigned the project, communicated clear expectations, and you can now move on to what is next. NOT! Very often, this is where accountability fails; all communication ends as you move to what’s next on your desk.

The Excuses:

  • I have a lot on my place; I don’t have time to babysit my team. They know how to do it and the deadline.
  • I set clear expectations, so I assumed they weren’t going to meet the deadline or come and talk about it.
  • Nobody told me we were challenged to find the resources required to complete this project despite my ‘Open Door Policy’.
  • Deadlines mean nothing here; nobody takes me seriously when I set a timeline for anything.
What is the core challenge? You, as the leader, have dropped the ball. Follow-up, scheduled check-ins are an important part of the delegation process. Missing this step almost guarantees you miss the deadline.

One Simple Tip: When you assign a task or project, confirm when you will be checking-in and what status reports you are expecting. Then hold yourself and others accountable to the schedule.

  • Have a project plan that includes clear ‘check-in or status updates and time-lines’ so everyone knows what to expect.
  • Put the follow up dates in your calendar to ensure you follow through.
  • Ask ‘open-ended questions’ about progress to date, challenges that might interrupt progress or any resource/support needed.
  • Avoid closed questions such as, “Are you on schedule with this project?’ A question like, ‘What has transpired’ since we last spoke?’, will give you far more information.

If you check-in and demonstrate interest, they will live to your expectations. If you do not hold them accountable, they will assume ‘Deadlines mean nothing’.


When we take accountability for our commitments and truly own the results, everybody wins. We get joy from achieving results, the team looks good within the organization and you, as the leader, look like a rock star because you have delivered on time and on budget. What one thing can you do in the next week to model accountability, personally or professionally?

Linda Maul is an Executive Coach, Author and Chief Disruptor at Accountability by Design Inc. She passionately believes accountability drives results