Are You Walking Your Talk?

Whether you’re the CEO of your own company or a mid-level to senior executive in a large corporation, how you behave is more important than what you say.  Accountability begins with you. If you’re not accountable to yourself and your team, don’t expect your team to be accountable to you. Your behavior speaks much louder than words.  

Many business owners and executives come to me as an executive coach seeking to improve their performance as a leader. Once we agree on what they’re going to work on, part of my role is that of an accountability partner who can check in regularly to ensure that they’re doing what they said they’d do.

One of the issues that frequently arises is how they can improve the accountability and performance of their teams. My book, Inspire Accountability, out on April 9th on Amazon, provides a process of inquiry I call the 7Cs to identify why employees aren’t more accountable and what’s driving their behavior. These same 7Cs can provide a leader with guidance on why they may be having a hard time holding themselves accountable for their commitments to themselves and others and how they can improve their accountability.

This is the first of a series of on how you as a leader can apply the 7Cs to improve your accountability and become a more effective leader:


The 7Cs: Culture, Clarity, Capacity, Competence, Confidence, Commitment, Compensation.

C#1 - Culture – How does the culture of your company impact accountability?  I believe a culture that makes it safe for people to speak their mind and be vulnerable and honest with each other is essential to the creation of high-performance teams.  

Is it safe in your company for you, the leader, to be vulnerable? Can you say you don’t know how to do something or that you made a mistake or that you aren’t sure of the answer? Can you ask for help?  

If you’re not vulnerable, your team won’t feel safe being vulnerable with you and you won’t know when they can’t do something or don’t want to do something, or think your request is a bad idea. The more human and approachable you are, the easier it is for people to be real with you and share their thoughts and concerns. So, how does this impact your accountability? If you need to be strong and have all the answers, and you’re afraid to ask for help or say you aren’t sure of how to get something done, sooner or later you’ll find yourself unable to do something you’ve committed to and you won’t feel comfortable asking for help. You’ll maintain a strong external image and fail to accomplish the task on time or to the desired standard of excellence.

Part of a healthy culture is moving from no excuses to no surprises. What this means for you as a leader is that when you are experiencing difficulty accomplishing a task you committed to doing, you are better off sharing your challenges with your team so they are able to help you than keeping the challenge to yourself and then surprising them with your inability to accomplish the task you committed to doing. Just as you want your team to keep you informed of roadblocks and things that may interfere with the accomplishment of their tasks, you want to do the same for your team. Keep them in the loop so they know what you are wrestling with and how they can help.

Integrity is at the heart of leadership. When a leader walks his talk, others will follow his example. When a leader is a role model for the core values of a company, employees really believe those core values matter. And, when leaders think that everyone needs to be accountable except for them, they send the wrong message and don’t get the accountability they desire from their team.  Remember, your accountability is the key to their accountability.


How Approachable Are You as a Boss

Perhaps the most important factor in employee engagement is the employee's relationship with their immediate boss. I have observed many leaders over the years. There are many ways to be an effective leader, however some leadership behaviors have a much more positive impact on employee engagement than others. One of the hallmarks of exceptional leaders is that they are approachable and vulnerable, and they make it safe for their employees to share difficult issues and to challenge their decisions. When leaders are vulnerable and approachable, it creates more open and truthful communication with employees. It also promotes trust, which is the foundation for effective teamwork.

Here are a few questions that may help you think about your relationship with your employees and how that relationship colors their communication with you. If you are the leader of your company, you might ask your team to answer these questions to get some insight on how they experience working for you. If they are afraid to answer these questions, then you know the answer!

  1. Do you feel comfortable sharing your fears and doubts with me?

  2. Do you feel comfortable saying you don't know how to do something and asking me for guidance or advice?

  3. Do you feel comfortable trying to do new things with uncertain outcomes?

  4. Do you feel comfortable admitting failure to me?

  5. Do you feel comfortable sharing bad news with me or do you hide bad news for fear of rejection or an angry reaction?

  6. Do you feel comfortable challenging me or disagreeing with me about my position on an issue?


In my coaching work with clients in companies of all sizes, I often find executives afraid to tell the truth to their boss or to reveal any sign of weakness. Here is a story you may be able to relate to.

Sally is a VP in a large high tech company who has worked hard for years to get to her current position. She works for a hard-driving, larger than life SVP, who pushes himself and his team very hard and wants no excuses for not performing. She often disagrees with the decisions made by her boss, but she is afraid to confront him. On the one or two occasions when she questioned him in a team meeting, he publicly put her down and humiliated her. He never wants anyone to challenge his decisions or opinions, especially in public. His energy is so big and his anger is so close to the surface that the whole team has a motto of "Don't provoke the lion!" because if you do he roars! Sally and the rest of the team have learned to silently go along even when they are walking down the wrong road rather than upset the lion.

I’ve seen variations on this theme played our over and over again. How does it make your team feel when they can't share their concerns and offer their opinions? Does it make them feel valued and respected? How does this behavior block the flow of what could be useful and important communication? How does it impact their level of engagement with your company and their commitment to the goals of your company?

For those of you who have been reading my newsletters for the past few months, you may have observed a theme of the impact of leadership on employee engagement,  retention and accountability. In fact, one of the Seven C’s of my soon to be published book, Inspire Accountability, deals with Commitment & Caring which is highly correlated with employee engagement, and another C deals with creating a Culture that makes it safe for people to say what they think even if it means challenging authority. One of the most important factors in employee engagement is an employee's ability to have truthful and meaningful interactions with their boss. This is very difficult if you are not approachable!

If you resonate with this article, please share your stories with me.

Ken Estridge