I have often struggled with knowing how to confront difficult people in difficult situations. When it comes to my attention that one of my leaders is being disloyal to me or to the organization, do I go confront them? How do I even broach the subject? For that matter, why is my default reaction to get angry?

The book Crucial Accountability deals with these and many more important topics. In fact, I have yet to pastor a church where leaders deal with their hurts, concerns or criticisms in an open, healthy way. Over time I’ve come to realize and mostly accept that people will rarely be honest with you or even themselves.

I liked this book so much that I had one of my church boards buy a copy of the book for every member of the board. Each month we tackled a new chapter. I wish I could tell you that we finished the book. The reality is that most people don’t want to dig deep into painful things. While I consider this book helpful, I did have a board member or two who had difficulty understanding the contents and knowing how it applied to them personally. I don’t believe this is a fault of the book in that it is well written but rather that the book is probably best understood by university educated people.

The premise of the book is that there is a right way to approach crucial conversations and a wrong way. Most people avoid having difficult conversations because they have already done the ‘mental math’ and decided that it is going to be more trouble than it is worth. It is therefore easier to avoid the conversation than to face it head on.

I know in my personal life this avoidance has gotten me in trouble far more often than it has helped me. Most interpersonal issues in church won’t go away by themselves. Many people falsely assume that if they just pretend that something isn’t a problem it will just go away. Unfortunately, that is almost never the case.

The authors of the book contend that while you may think you are hiding the issues you have with someone else, the reality is that it will come to the surface one way or another. Most times, our non-verbal communication will betray us. How we view others will affect how we approach others. The story we will tell ourselves. The way we will choose to deal with any difficulties or problems between us.


Through the book I was introduced to the concept of Fundamental Attribution Error.  The Fundamental Attribution Error is assuming that others do contrary things because it’s in their makeup or they actually enjoy doing them and then ignoring any other potential motivational forces. I learned that it was important to become aware of the conversation I had towards the difficult people in my life. That there is always at least one other side to a story. If I haven’t engaged the person or people in constructive conversation, how can I really know what is motivating them to go negative?

Crucial Accountability introduces what they consider the Six Sources of Influence of any behaviour.

The Six Sources of Influence

  1. Personal Motivation
  2. Personal Ability
  3. Social Motivation
  4. Social Ability
  5. Structural Motivation
  6. Structural Ability

Let’s consider questions we could ask ourselves just the first two influences.

Personal Motivation: Does the action motivate? Does the person enjoy the action independent  of how others think or feel? Does it bring pleasure or pain?

Personal Ability: Are others motivated to do what they promised? Are they able?

Social Motivation: Is the other person being influenced by peers, the boss, customers, or family, or for that matter, by any other human being?

Social Ability: Are you acting in a way to contribute to the problem? Are others giving the person the resources they need to complete their job?

GREAT QUOTE: “When your style or demeanor or methods cause resistance, others may purposefully clam up and not deliver, and you won’t even know that you’re the cause of the problem. You’ll just hear a lot of excuses and get no honest feedback, particularly if you’re in a position of authority.”

It is only as we take the time to thoughtfully examine the circumstances, influences and dynamics of the situation that we will come to appreciate that whatever infraction the person under our leadership has committed, there is certainly more to the story than what we know. Sometimes, we are the roadblock to organizational success and not the church leaders.

I highly recommend Crucial Accountability. This book is especially helpful to any leader who is looking to improve how they relate to those under their authority. To learn how to keep people better accountable to their commitments and to know how to talk to people under you when they inevitably let you down.


“The more tainted the history is (between you and another person) and the more severe the consequences are, the more likely we are to assume the worst, become angry, and shoot from the hip.”

“Rare is the sudden and unexpected emotional explosion that wasn’t preceded by a lengthy period of tortured silence.”

“Social pressure is the mother of all stupidity.”

“Never conduct public performance reviews. Never discipline your children in front of their friends. Never confront your spouse in the middle of a dinner party. Never talk about friends, loved ones, direct reports, or bosses at the water cooler. Speak in private, one-to-one and face-to-face.”


The book isn’t available on Scribd but you can get it from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com. (FULL DISCLOSURE: If you click on the box below, I get a tiny one time commission.)