by Natalie McVeigh (originally appeared in on 3/23/17)

Accountability is a differentiator for families in business because it gives us a way to be authentic and explicit with each other in an environment that can be rife with complex communication dilemmas.

We define accountability as the “obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.” It’s proactive, cooperative and most importantly, relational. This means making expectations clear and checking in with each other along the way instead of waiting to pounce when people do not meet them. Being accountable also requires that a plan or commitment is made together i.e. what? by when? how are we going to keep in touch about this? how can I support you?


Two skills/attributes that are critical to creating accountability are assertiveness and compassion. Both are critical contributors to driving accountability.

Assertiveness is simply when you can say what you think and mean clearly and with conviction without hemming, hawing or beating around the bush.  Assertiveness does not look like behavior that is argumentative, antagonistic, attacking or defensive. Assertiveness is open-hearted and direct. That does not mean that assertiveness always feels comfortable. A lot of times it does not.  Assertiveness assumes that what you think and feel “belongs” to you and what someone else thinks and feels “belongs to him/her.” It assumes that both of you are worthy and deserving of information that you value.

Compassion is the act of connecting and “being with” or understanding. It is defined as the feeling that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. Emotional Intelligence research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, and we secrete many ‘feel-good’ hormones such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. Regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure also light up, which can result in our wanting to approach and care for other people.

Being assertive and compassionate with one another as we devise ways to be accountable to one another can be the secret sauce in our relationships. Because businesses that are owned by families often have more complex relational issues, the tool of accountability supported by the behaviors of assertiveness and compassion can be invaluable to keeping a healthy family and a healthy business in balance.

About the Author

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs. They were Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.

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