“Success seems to be connected with Action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit."

- Conrad Hilton, Hilton Hotels


Relationships at times suffer communication breakdowns because people are confused as to their roles and responsibilities in the relationship. When this is the case, it’s now time to reset the stages of Trust and Accountability. People know they cannot do everything themselves. So why live with unnecessary frustration because someone in the process has dropped the ball?  In all relationships (business or personal) we want other people to care as much about our relationship and achieving successful outcomes as we do.


When people have communication break-downs, most of the time it’s not about the job, assignment, or responsibility. The disconnect comes in the area of clarifying expectations specifically how much you want to trust and how much the other party wants to be accountable. As a leader, the must important job is to communicate expectations. People tend to forget that assumption is the mother of all misunderstanding. Technology has also limited communication, because words by themselves make up only 7% of getting your message across. Effectively guiding people up and down the stages of trust and accountability is perhaps the single most powerful “high leverage” management tool we teach.


Transferring responsibility using the stages of Trust and Accountability to other skilled and higher-trained people enables you to focus your energies on other high-leverage activities for which you are better suited. Starting from the lowest stage to the highest stage, here are the four stages of Trust and Accountability:

Hand’s off: (Not My Job!)

At this stage your expectation is for people to not get involved. They should keep their “hands off” of a situation or responsibility. It is truly “not their job.” Their participation creates a “liability”. They are better suited for sitting this one out. Examples of this would be; safety concerns, lack of certification or qualification, and attention to low level concerns causing you to miss greater opportunities.

Take Direction: (What Should I Do?)

At this “Preventative Maintenance” stage people do not make a move until they are told. They follow instructions without question. This stage is effective in handling five specific conditions: A) Employees learning something new; B) Someone struggling with their responsibilities;  C) Personal problems; D) When a significant opportunity is on the line; E) The need to get back to basics. At this stage people are trainable and open-minded to counsel and direction.

Training & Testing: (Here Is What I Think We Should Do!)

At this “leadership development” stage people are able to assess situations and provide recommendations in order to get the job done. Confidence grows in their ability to handle the task appropriately, and you can give people more freedom in developing their own ideas as to how to achieve the desired results. Tools such as role-play, case studies, mentoring, cross-training, teamwork, and on-the-job observation provide many opportunities for people to show you they are worthy of your trust.

Decision-making with a Return and Report Routine: (Here Is What I Just Did!)

This is Utopia and a great time to “Invest” time, money and effort. This is the pinnacle and most effective stage of trust and accountability. At this stage, people are given plenty of scope and freedom to decide how to achieve the desired results. Everyone needs someone to be accountable to. Checks and balances keep even top performers consistent and loyal.

Take Note:

Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people. But it takes time and patience and necessarily involves training and developing people, so that their competency can rise to that level of trust.

Accountability and Levels of Trust