When Margo Aaron and Pam Yang met at a networking event in February, it took them less than five minutes to decide they should become "accountability partners."
At the time the two were taking the same online course to help launch their marketing and branding businesses, and both felt tapped out going it alone.
Aaron, the founder of Argotics, and Yang, the founder of Dear Zero, were in need of someone to provide guidance and hold them to their commitments. They decided to try a new kind of mentorship to take their success to the next level.
"When we first met, we quickly discovered we were struggling with the same issues: how to scale our businesses," Aaron explains to Business Insider. "We'd heard the term 'accountability partner' thrown around in our entrepreneurial circles, but weren't too keen on the idea of being 'set up' randomly with someone."
A little more than a week later Aaron and Yang met for coffee to ensure they were a good fit and to strategize how they'd go about their partnership. They discussed where they each were in their business growth and where they wanted to go. After deciding to test out a weekly hour-long discussion, they soon saw value in their accountability partnership.
"We now talk every week, and something feels missing when we don't," Yang says.
Partnerships of this ilk have been a mainstay in the positive-habit-building realm for some time now, and it's catching on as the secret weapon for success in the business world, too. The main difference between accountability partners and mentors or sponsors is the duality of the relationship — each person holds their partner accountable to their goals.
"Accountability is a powerful factor in habit formation, and a ubiquitous feature in our lives," writes Gretchen Rubin in her book, "Better Than Before." "If we believe that someone's watching, we behave differently."
That's why groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers are so successful — they hold people accountable to their commitments of self-improvement.
Rubin cites several studies that prove the role accountability plays in positive behavior, including one chronicled by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney where the mere presence of a mirror (people watched themselves as they walked past) made people more likely to resist bullying, to work harder, and to resist temptation. Numerous other studies have shown that when we don't feel accountable, we behave worse.
"Knowing that I have to check in with Margo and that I've put my goals on paper puts pressure on me to not fail and not let her down," Yang says.
Each week the partners set goals for the coming week, and the following week's call would cover what was accomplished the previous week, what wasn't, and why. They split their hour-long discussion fairly evenly, but if someone needs more time one week, they split the time as needed.
"Being accountability partners only works for us if we can really hear what the other person is saying (and what they're not saying) in order to ask the right questions and give helpful feedback," Yang says.
She points out that, since she doesn't have a manager overseeing her business growth, responsibility falls entirely on her, and sometimes she lets herself off the hook when she's too tired or overwhelmed. "It's psychological and subtle, but has made all the difference in the world to me."
"Having someone literally holding you accountable takes things out of your head and into the world. It makes them tangible," Aaron explains. She credits her partnership with Yang for helping her business progress at lightening speed because Yang holds her responsible for results.
As a solopreneur, Yang says doubts, insecurities, and fears also have plenty of opportunities to creep into her thought process. "Doing the actual work for clients isn't the hard part. It's the brain blocks, inner monologues, and insecurities surrounding the health of my business that I need help with." That's where Aaron comes in.
"Margo is a partner in my success and growth, but not in my business day to day, so she doesn't live and die by it and, thus, can divorce the emotion from it way better than I can," Yang explains.
Aaron believes they make great partners because they can be straight with each other. "You have to be of a certain temperament to present cold truths in a compassionate, but necessary way. Not everyone likes this approach. We thrive off it. No sugar coating."
It also helps, she says, that both work in marketing, so they can speak each others' language with a native fluency that others couldn't. "That was especially beneficial to being able to see where the other was getting stuck and how she was working through issues. 'You're doing that thing that we do. Don't do that!'"
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