Make Accountability a Normal Part of Your Business Success Plan

By Lee Ellis

What’s the one thing that can make or break your chance to move ahead and achieve your personal professional goals? When I tell you, you’re not going to like it. It’s too time-consuming. Too intrusive. Too–dare I say it?—moralistic.


It’s honor—plain and simple. When you’re either looking to be promoted or to promoting someone to a leadership position, the decision will ultimately ride on the answer to this visceral question: “Which one can I trust?”

In today’s business culture, that choice is becoming less clear-cut. The decline in accountability and honorable behavior is a trend that’s hard to miss. The scarcity of honor is seen in every level, from the executive office down to the warehouse, but all the more where there is power or money at stake.

See, I warned you that it was intrusive. Are you squirming—even just a little? All of us wrestle with the issue of living honorably—in our homes, in our careers, in all our relationships. But isn’t it true that you want to be able to trust the people closest to you? Your boss sure does! And with honor comes accountability—to do, be, say, operate, and behave with integrity.

As a POW in North Vietnam for more than 5 years, I witnessed the interconnected relationship of honor and accountability in the harshest conditions imaginable. In that crucible of torture and abuse, our leaders were steadfast. With character, courage, and commitment, they sacrificially set the example for the rest of us. In the face of great suffering they held themselves accountable to do their best to serve.

Their example marked my life and leadership to this day, and here’s what I learned:

Commit to a set of nonnegotiable behaviors to guard your character and protect your honor

Consider these seven behaviors from The Honor Code that we use with clients:

  1. Tell the truth even when it’s difficult. (Avoid duplicity and deceitful behavior.)
  2. Treat others with dignity and respect. (Take the lead, and show value to others.)
  3. Keep your word and your commitments. (If necessary, ask for relief sooner than later.)
  4. Be ethical. Operate within the laws of the land, the guidelines of your profession, and the policies of your employer.)
  5. Act responsibly; do your duty, and be accountable. (Own your mistakes, and work to do better in the future.)
  6. Be courageous. (Lean into the pain of your fears to do what you know is right, even when it feels unnatural or uncomfortable.)
  7. Live your values. (Be faithful to your spiritual core, your conscience, and your deepest intuitions.)

These behaviors may look simple and easy, but I believe they’re quite difficult to uphold. I regularly find myself correcting back on course. And once you start working on these foundational nonnegotiables, it’s easier to understand why there are so many problems in business. Living by them requires character, courage, and commitment, and it works best when it’s accompanied by honor’s guardian companion—accountability.

Now clearly, this idea of accountability is one that we all realize is crucial to a successful business (or society), yet somehow it’s gotten a bad name. But in reality, it’s not only essential, but it can be a very positive leadership tool for getting good results.

Make accountability a part of your daily life and work by following the four-step Courageous Accountability Model™

  1. Clarify. Make sure that you have clarity about expectations, starting at the highest level of mission, vision, and values. Your people should have a very clear picture of what you want to happen.
  2. Connect. Connect with people at a heart level so they feel valued. Evidence continues to grow that a team or business is more productive when their leaders are connected with them in positive ways.
  3. Collaborate. This step seems so easy. “Sure I like to collaborate,” you say. But when faced with challenges, ambiguity, and hard choices, the negative emotions can come quickly. Fear, anger, pride, distrust, shame, and guilt are natural first responses that drive us toward the impulse to dominate or withdraw. Neither response works in the long run. The goal is to learn to collaborate by engaging with others to work through issues with courage, confidence, humility, and respect.
  4. Closeout. As a leader, if you have diligently followed the steps above, the critical parameters are in place for you to celebrate success! Don’t be afraid or reluctant to celebrate. It’s the best way to bring closure to achieving a goal—it meets our natural desire to feel good about our work and our achievements.

For those times when you’ve applied and managed the steps above and it did not turn out well, you have to courageously confront the situation and the person with well thought-out consequences. It’s the only fair thing to do, and it benefits everyone: the person, the team, the organization, and you—the leader.

So take steps now to reverse the cultural trend—engage with honor and embrace its guardian companion, accountability. You will reap great personal benefits and be better prepared for the challenges and rewards that your human resources and training career will bring.

Lee Ellis Lee Ellis is the author of Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability. He is a seasoned presenter, human performance expert, and travels the country sharing his harrowing account of how his 5-year experience as a POW in Vietnam helped shape his ability to lead his comrades and return home with honor.
Ellis’ recurring themes highlight the importance of character, courage, communication, and culture for ensuring cohesive teamwork and ultimate success. Ellis teaches powerful leadership principles and strategic best practices for how to act with courage in the face of leadership’s doubts and fears and strike the balance to successfully lead. He also teaches audiences to recognize whether their leadership tilts towards results—tasks—or relationships—people and how to respectfully engage others to achieve win-win results.