Accountability - a chat with Heather Tosh

I work with a lot of people who are exploring or embarking on the transition from employment to self-employment for the first time. There’s lots of things to unpick around this move, from dealing with increased risk to how to plan and have a strategy that works for that person and their business.

One of the major themes, that seems almost universal is around accountability.…

Going from an employed position with line manager, targets, externally imposed deadlines, regular appraisals and reviews into lone working where there is no one looking over your shoulder and the buck stops at you can be tough if not thought about. When this dramatic shift occurs, attention is needed on making sure the new venture builds in ways of gaining affirmation and also accountability.

Everyone is different in this regard. Some (a few, not the many) are excellent at being accountable to themselves, others are rubbish at that but never let other people down and others sit somewhere in between. Gretchen Rubin’s accountability quiz is a good place to start exploring where you might sit on that scale. The RSA has produced a lovely animation about it too.

I’ve found my accountability can change quite dramatically depending on what projects I’m working on and what else is going on in my life. It’s not a fixed trait for me, which makes it all the more important to pay attention to and check in every now and again to make sure I’m not missing a trick in making work more rewarding and efficient.

Part of that attention is seeking out others who are doing interesting things with accountability that veer away from the shouty, instagrammable, quote-laden world. One of these marvellous people is Heather Tosh, founder of the Women Who Fail podcast and more recently, building and amazing accountability community called Let’s Huddle.

Heather and I connected through an CEC Advisor session and I asked if I could interview her for this blog. She sent me some brilliant answers to my questions, but alongside came an apology for being too wordy… which I totally disagree with and if we get to work together further in the future, I’ll be challenging. Less apologising more bold fabulousness please!

Here’s what she said…

Tell me a bit about you and Women Who Fail:

It’s a podcast about women living in Scotland talking about what the word 'failure' means to them. At the beginning of lockdown, I wanted to teach myself podcasting, but the thought of exposing so many sides of myself put me off. Looking back, I definitely think I chose this subject as a way of giving myself permission for it to be a complete flop from lift-off. I remember hearing Seth Godin say, "start as though you're going to fail" and I still find that really freeing. Zero expectation = permission to play.

What does accountability mean to you?

It means having someone who cares enough to confront you; they want to see you get from A to B but they’re not going to sit back and tell you you’re fabulous. It also means acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers. I think our culture thrives on selling us independence but not everyone is suited to flying solo when it comes to making stuff happen. I need to be alongside others and there’s no shame in that. Also, I’m an innovator which means that I get things off the ground really quickly and then struggle to maintain them. I googled my name the other day and found 4 abandoned websites. It’s not a good outcome but nobody is the complete creative package - it doesn’t exist, no matter what Instagram may tell you.

How do you hold yourself accountable and when is that hard or when does it not work?

I struggle to do this. When I start something, enthusiasm will be sky high but then imposter syndrome will settle down and my perfectionist tendency will have me stuck on ‘eat, edit, repeat’ for a while. I'll then get myself into a pit of frustration, moan to a friend, and then their words will kick me back into action.

What happens when you have peer accountability?

Things that may have taken two years to get off the ground happen way quicker. We concoct all sorts of reasons for not even starting but when you’re faced with three people saying you’re getting in your own way, you can’t pretend that you don’t hear them and you just get on with it. I really believe that 9 times out of 10, we'll be the reason that our ideas don't work out; we fail to surround ourselves with the people we need to help us manage 'us'.

Tell me about Let’s Huddle… why did you start it?  What have you learnt from doing it?

I hold myself accountable through ‘Let’s Huddle’. At the beginning of January, when the new restrictions were announced, I asked if anyone would be interested in forming a small accountability group with me so that my new podcast wouldn’t die a slow death. It also felt important to really stay connected with people at that point. I was spending less and less time on things that brought me joy and no amount of external encouragement was resulting in more podcast episodes; I knew that I needed to have a community around me.

The response was pretty big and it had me wondering, “gosh a lot of us need this right now”. Instead of just creating a group for myself, I brought everyone together who wanted accountability and so Let’s Huddle was born. You don’t have to have a project in progress; you may be someone who is just trying to find their thing, or you may be looking to go self-employed - the diversity of the membership is brilliant. It’s not about the ‘thing’ that you’re doing, it’s about making sure you get out of your own way.

What’s next?

It feels like Let's Huddle is growing by itself which is an amazing thing to witness. To put something out there that people are benefitting from and so it grows through word of mouth is incredible, but it also means that you don’t want to disappoint people and ensure everyone has the same experience. I’ve essentially created a support crutch for others as well as myself, although I am spending more time on Huddle than Women Who Fail because alas, it’s shiny and new! I’m enjoying thinking about it from a strategic point of view so I don’t manage it single-handedly. I want the community to take the lead with me as their facilitator; I want it to run from the inside out.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Nobody has ever asked me for an interview but I had a blast so thank you!

She's a total inspiration!

Building communities can be a real slog, but Heather has done so with ease, partly it being the right theme at the right time, but also because she’s really good at it. You can sign up to Let’s Huddle here and listen to the Women Who Fail podcast here.  I set myself a target to be a guest on as many wonderful podcasts as possible this year, so I’ll definitely be trying to convince Heather to return to the less shiny new thing so I can have a proper chat about failure… always the hustler!