Examples of Leadership Success: Leading through Positive Accountability

Leadership Success Blog Series

For this next blog series, I will be highlighting successful examples of critical leader behaviors I’ve seen. The goal is to share leader behavior(s) and why they are important from a leadership and/or behavioral science perspective. Seeing, or reading about, how someone is driving organizational success is a useful tool to learn and adapt our own behavior. While names of companies and leaders will be redacted, what they have done will be described in detail. For this blog series, I will use the name “Pat” when referring to him or her.

Leading through Positive Accountability

 “The old way of doing things” often sticks around longer than an organization would like. In this first blog, I highlight how a leader was able to move away from others dismissing change as another “flavor of the month,” to creating sustained change at the leadership level. 

Throughout the years, the corporate office sent people to different leadership development workshops without sustained success. Pat wanted to change that pattern, improve the leadership capabilities of the plant’s leadership team, and create consistency in how the leadership team influenced others. 

The journey started when Pat attended ADI’s Applications of Behavioral Leadership workshop. After a positive experience in the workshop, Pat decided to put the plant’s entire leadership team through the course. This gave them a common understanding about behavior and how best to influence performance. The workshop also introduced an accountability mechanism for improving leadership abilities. As many of us have seen play out in organizations, sending people to training and saying, “Now do it,” is an ineffective approach. To create sustained change, Pat followed up with critical leadership behaviors:

Started at the top. Pat developed a tiered training plan, starting with the highest levels of leadership at the site. This helped for several reasons. First, starting with senior leaders sent a clear message to everyone that this initiative is important. Second, it made senior leaders drive and model the change. And lastly, it increased Pat’s ability to hold leaders accountable. This prevented the typical “Do as I say and not as I do” pattern that the site had experienced in the past. As the training plan was implemented, participants in later sessions came in excited to finally learn what their leaders had been through. 

Set clear expectations. Pat spent time with leaders individually and as a group to clarify his expectations before and during the training. The individual meetings consisted of discussions around what people were going to learn and what was expected immediately after the training, including carving out time to hold regular meetings with their direct reports to review and discuss coaching efforts. During the training, Pat kicked off the event by describing the “ground rule” behaviors expected during the training, his personal experience with the session, what he has done to implement what he learned, the results he has personally seen and his plan to use behavioral technology to drive business results at the site. This communicated “the why” behind why this training is important. Throughout the session, Pat checked in to answer questions, address concerns, and further define next steps.

Created Positive Accountability. It’s what happens after training that really matters. During the Applications of Behavioral Leadership course Pat attended, he learned about ADI’s coaching process. This process includes installing a system of leadership meetings to create positive accountability around coaching efforts. This system is designed to create a standard cadence of meetings, focused on improving the amount of positive reinforcement leaders are delivering and improving the quality of feedback. Pat embedded this process into how the site runs its daily operations. To start, Pat held weekly accountability sessions with the senior leaders to discuss their coaching efforts. Each person was expected to bring an example of a short coaching interaction to discuss and receive feedback. This weekly meeting ensured people were applying what they learned from the training and added a much-needed accountability mechanism for continued focus on improving those efforts. 

The positive in positive accountability came from positive feedback and helpful suggestions that led to improved leadership tactics from both the leader and peers. As the training plan was implemented, these leaders were expected to run weekly accountability meetings with their direct reports following the same format. Once this started to happen, Pat had individual meetings with leaders to ask about the feedback sessions and attended their meetings on occasion to provide feedback to the group. Pat also dedicated time daily to follow-up with direct reports on their individual coaching efforts, asking for good examples of coaching and then providing feedback. Most of this initial feedback was dedicated to positive reinforcement for early attempts. Then Pat provided feedback for improvements in the quality and consistency of each leader’s coaching efforts. 

These critical behaviors created a powerful change strategy. The site went from one that pushed back on change, to leading change within the organization. In practice, the planning and setting expectations behaviors are the easy part. Creating a culture of positive accountability took more time and effort. Pat carved out time on a daily/weekly basis dedicated to nudging and positively reinforcing behaviors consistent with the newly set expectations. These behaviors led to the shifts in leader behavior and the site culture, and ultimately the organizational results. Any leader tasked with creating or wanting change should consider emulating these critical behaviors. 


Posted by Bryan Shelton

Bryan applies his knowledge and expertise in strategic planning to help organizations align employee performance with company goals. Bryan helps clients create improvement across a variety of business metrics including company growth, profitability, customer service, vision alignment, leadership development, and culture change. He also helps clients implement process improvement initiatives, improve sales results and using performance-pay systems to help drive company results. His behavior-based approaches and applications have supported clients’ improvement initiatives, leadership development, and the design and implementation of performance pay systems.