Once again, I welcome a respected guest contributor – Greg Bustin, Vistage Chair, Strategy Consultant, Author & Keynote Presenter.

Every year for the past fifteen years I’ve delivered an average of fifty private talks for business leaders, keynotes at conferences, and workshops for leadership teams.

My most popular talk is about accountability, and the widespread interest in this topic has kept my book Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture at the top of the charts on this subject.

Now, after being offered in hardback and digital formats, this book is available as an audiobook.

Added to the book’s original material is a bonus interview covering key insights I’ve learned about accountability since I wrote the book.

Here are two of those insights.

Relational, not just Transactional
When I began writing the book, I learned accountability had its roots in record-keeping activities related to moneylending systems first developed in ancient Israel, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and, later, Rome. In this context, accountability was concerned with settling accounts. Moneylenders would hold people to account—to expect repayment of what had been borrowed. Historically, then, accountability has been viewed as a transactional experience.

Since completing the book, I’ve come to appreciate that accountability is a way of thinking and acting all the time so that it’s less transactional and more relational.

In other words, accountability is least effective when it’s reduced to a single conversation or a single transaction.

This belief led me to the insight that “holding people accountable” has about as much appeal as “holding people hostage.” “Holding people accountable” is an old-school way of thinking and it’s what gives accountability a bad rap.

If you really want people to perform at their best and drive your organization to new levels of performance, start thinking about accountability in a new way: Accountability is a support system for winners.

This fresh perspective about accountability is one reason I’ve come to believe accountability is more relational than transactional. It’s more about coaching than scolding.

The Problem with Burnout
Growth-minded organizations know first-hand how challenging it’s become to find, develop and retain top talent.

During the global COVID pandemic, work increasingly was performed remotely and for some organizations this new approach illuminated existing accountability problems and created new ones.

In an environment where people are performing work without easy access to collaboration and coaching, accountability’s importance is heightened because of the structure accountability provides: Who will do what by when for what expected result?

Remote work isn’t going away and accountability will continue to be an essential component of how work gets done—or doesn’t get done.

The people who need accountability the most—the people who need the structure, the people who need coaching, the people who need their performance tracked through a scoreboard system that’s visible to them and their team—are often the ones who fear accountability.

And that brings us to one of the top reasons talented people leave their current place of employment.

Nothing saps the morale of a talented employee more than watching their supervisor tolerate an underperforming employee.

Failure to address a performance problem in a timely way means the problem persists. And that performance problem begets a bigger problem.

Top talent doesn’t burn out from too much work. Top talent burns out when problems – people, processes and structure – prevent them from being their best, hindering progress toward stated objectives.

“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with,” said former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, “but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”

Effective leaders distinguish between reasons and excuses. When reasons are given for poor performance, the reason—the barrier—is eventually removed. When excuses are given for poor performance, the person is eventually removed—either by being moved into a new role or by being terminated from the company.

The distinction between reasons and excuses is one insight into a company’s culture.

The Seven Pillars of Accountability
Interviews with executives and their teams at several of Fortune’s Most Admired Companies as well as with leaders of successful small and midsize businesses revealed that high-performing organizations share seven distinct characteristics that I call the Seven Pillars of Accountability: Character / Unity / Learning / Tracking / Urgency / Reputation / Evolving.

You probably noticed an acronym: C.U.L.T.U.R.E. It’s deliber­ate and will help you remember the seven pillars.

This acronym also will help you remember that your culture is a significant predictor of your future performance.


About our guest contributor: Greg Bustin advises some of the world’s most admired companies and leaders, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 250 strategic planning sessions, he’s delivered more than 600 keynotes and workshops on every continent except Antarctica, and he coaches leaders who are inspired to take their career to the next level. His fourth leadership book—Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (McGraw-Hill)—is a Soundview Executive Best Business Book.