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The 8 Essential Characteristics of an Accountability Partner

As I write this article, my quadriceps and hamstrings are sorer than they have been in years.  I have been gingerly climbing stairs and letting out glorious sighs of relief every time I sit down.  What, you ask, is responsible for the pathetic state in which I find my body? Car accident?  Fall down the stairs? Slip on a banana peel?  Nope!  My dear husband, my accountability partner, is responsible for my wretched existence – and I couldn’t be more grateful.

My husband, amongst his many talents, is a certified personal trainer.  And recently, I got over my issue of not wanting him telling me what to do and agreed to let him train me.  It has been a challenging, yet rewarding experience.  While there has admittedly been some discomfort, it has totally been worth it. Not only am I stronger and healthier, I also feel capable of things I didn’t think were possible.  It has also shown me the ideal characteristics one should seek in an accountability partner.

An accountability partner is an ally who helps you work toward your goals.  Whether you are aiming to get healthier, reach new heights in your career, or pursue an artistic endeavor, everyone who is serious about personal or professional development should have one.  Recruit a friend, significant other, colleague, or professional coach to work with you, knowing that this person can be powerful collaborator in your personal growth.

The key is making sure he or she has the following characteristics:

1.       Encouraging

When you are working on personal development, having someone who will give you positive reinforcement keeps you focused.  Throughout our workouts, my husband encourages my efforts, saying things like “Good job” and “You’ve got this.”  This helps me to stay upbeat when the going gets tough. Knowing that your accountability partner is on your side and eager to celebrate your wins can be incredibly motivating and energizing.

2.       Challenging

While it can feel great to have friends who will let you stay inside your comfort zone, your accountability partner should be someone who will push you.  After all, if you are going to grow, you need to experiment with new behaviors!  Doing bicep curls while balancing on one leg after having run up and down a hill twice wasn’t exactly something I would have chosen to do on my own accord.  But, when I followed my husband’s suggestion, it strengthened my core, developed balance, and gave me a sense of pride when I completed it successfully. Look for an accountability partner who is also willing to challenge you to be your best.

3.       Compassionate…

Personal growth can be challenging, and knowing someone can relate to what you are going through can be helpful.  While your partner may not be working on the exact same issues, hearing someone say, “I know how you feel” or “I’ve been there” can be comforting.

4.       But Not TOO Compassionate

While you want someone who is compassionate, you don’t want her to be so compassionate that she will listen to your excuses and complaints and allow you to sell yourself short. During our workouts, my husband can relate to the fact that I might be a little uncomfortable, but not so much so that he allows me to quit. Find someone who can help you to “suck it up” when necessary so that you can be quicker to dust yourself off and bounce back when you are struggling.

5.       Emotionally Resilient

The path to personal growth is not always a smooth one, and sometimes, we need someone who can be an emotional support, without taking some of our comments personally.  By the end of some workouts, I find myself giving my husband death stares in response to some of his requests.  He, however, takes it all in, stays good-natured, and continues to push me and provide encouragement. An accountability partner who can provide a safe space for you to vent is critical to your growth.

6.       Willing to Give Constructive Feedback

We are not always the best judges of how we are doing.  Having someone who is willing to provide constructive feedback can help us course-correct and help guard against blind spots.  When working out, a few helpful comments help me align my body appropriately, and get the most out of my exercises. Likewise, your accountability partner should be comfortable giving you valuable feedback that will enable you to improve or stick to your goals.

7.       Sees Great Potential in You

Research shows that we often meet others’ expectations of us. So, if the bar is set high, we frequently attain it.  Likewise, if expectations are low, we can achieve mediocre performance.  During a workout, I sometimes look at my husband incredulously in response to a suggestion saying, “You want me to do what?” He just smiles, says, “I know what you can do.  Just try.”  Nine times out of ten, he is right, and my conception of the feats of which I am capable expands. Likewise, your accountability partner should be able to see the person you are able to become, not just who you are now.

8.       Gives You a Break

While personal growth requires persistence, sometimes you just need to recharge and get ready for the next challenge.  Whether he suggests I take a day off, or nurtures me with a soothing massage, he gives me moments to rest. Your accountability partner should understand when you need a breather, and be there for you to recuperate, plan for the next sprint, and help you reflect back with pride on all of your progress.

Regardless of the domain in which you are trying to develop, if you have the help and support of a great accountability partner, your odds for success will increase.  I encourage you to find one (or several) today!

Need to make a change? Sign up for my free course on the 6 Keys to Personal Transformation.

Patricia Thompson - Corporate Psychologist and Management Consultant | Silver Lining Psychology

About the Author

Dr. Patricia Thompson is a Corporate Psychologist and Management Consultant who is passionate about helping her clients flourish by making well-informed hiring decisions, cultivating talent, and developing a positive organizational culture. Read more...