One of my favorite sayings is: “I’ll hear what you say, but I’ll trust what you do.” I think this is absolutely brilliant. You should use it when you want to feel real smart and savvy as a leader. I first heard it used by college football coach Jerry Kill at the University of Minnesota when he was giving a motivational talk to a room full of business leaders. He was explaining how he communicates and relates to his players. In other words, you can talk all you want about what you are about to do, what you intend to do, and what you promise to do. However, the only way to truly evaluate you as a player and a person is by watching what you actually do. How you operate tells the story about who you really are.

As you know, I am always thinking. This statement is normally used by a leader talking to a subordinate. They’re saying that they’re watching you and will let you know how you’re doing. If I don’t like something you are doing or how you are doing it, I will be sure to stop you dead in your tracks to correct you. Leaders have such a nice seat up on the mountain where everyone comes and kisses our pinky rings and we give them the lay of the land. We make the decisions and everyone waits for us to bark orders. We even get to go home and talk about them to whoever wants to listen. “My office manager just doesn’t get it. My sales manager needs to be more organized. My legal department is too technical.” Blah, blah, blah.

Let’s think about this statement again: “I’ll hear what you say, but I’ll trust what you do.” Can’t your subordinates use that toward you as well? One thing I want to impress upon any leader is that everyone is watching you with a critical eye all of the time. They will hear what you say, but they will trust what you do. Everyone you lead wants to know if you practice what you preach, so here are a few questions for you to make sure you are not the subject of pillow talk. Think about it: we have all had an idiot for a boss, right? Are you someone’s boss right now? If the answer is yes, this means you could be someone’s idiot. Here is what leaders need to be mindful of.

1.  Integrity- Employees and the people you lead pick up on your heart every time you speak. Do you do the right thing at all times? If you cut corners and cheat, you are sending a message to everyone you lead that it is ok to cheat and be unethical.

 2.  Work ethic- Are you working as hard as you expect others to work? Do you crack the whip and then sit back and drink lemonade all day? Make sure you preach hard work and also model hard work.

3.  Commit to excellence- Is average okay? If you want to build a culture of excellence, make sure you model e.xcellence. If average is okay for you, it will be okay for everyone.

4.  Look like the leader- Everyone you lead needs to have confidence in you as a leader if you want them to follow you. It helps for you to look the part to pass the eyeball test. Most people never think about personal appearance, but it is real. Studies show that the better you look and dress, the more money you make.

Why should you do all of this? Because everyone is watching you.

During my 10 years in the NBA — eight as a player in Dallas, Utah and Detroit and two as a broadcaster in Minnesota — I noticed a clear correlation between accountability and team performance.

Every team had a distinct culture, whether it was on the court, in the locker room, at practice, or even on team flights.

After defeat, players for winning teams could be heard saying “my fault” and “my bad.” They acted as if they lost the game all by themselves. There was this strong sense of accountability. Even though it was a team effort, each player understood how his play directly contributed to the team’s results. You could hear a chorus of players consoling each other and taking ownership in a mistake or lack of production that contributed to the loss.

And when that same team won (which was the norm), the players complimented each other and never bragged about their own play: “Hey! No big deal. I am just doing my job as a team member.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that locker room culture?

When I played on losing teams, or visited locker rooms for post-game interviews of losing teams, I noticed a vast difference. Players were self-serving, and narcissistic observations filled the air. There were comments like: “I’m the best player in this league!” “I’m glad my teammates got me the ball.” “I need the ball!”

It wasn’t the smell of sweaty uniforms, BenGay or basketball sneakers that made it hard to breathe. It was the self-aggrandizing commentary that sucked the oxygen out of the room. A whole lot of “I” and “me” filled the room.

Thirteen years after leaving my broadcasting job with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I see the same issues in corporate America. Winning organizations have a culture of accountability, just like winning NBA teams. Organizations that struggle to survive or continue to underperform have similar characteristics to those found in losing NBA locker rooms.

The lack of accountability within the business community is at an all-time high and is degrading revenues.

Only 44 percent of employees feel that people in their organizations take full responsibility for their actions, according to a recent poll by Modern Survey. Other surveys suggest that up to 80 percent of business leaders struggle with holding others accountable. This is significant because accountability has to start at the top.

I am always concerned when I consult with organizations and hear their strategic plans to grow sales and increase revenue, yet there is no attention given to their culture. Many business leaders just don’t understand how important it is to build the right culture. They have dissention, unhealthy factions, bitter employees, and high turnover, but want to improve the bottom line and are running on a treadmill going nowhere fast.

Accountability improves results by improving culture, naturally improving employee engagement, leading to performance improvement.

Here are 10 benefits of establishing a culture of accountability:

  1. Attracts and retains high performers.
  2. Rids you of poor performers. They will leave on their own.
  3. Defines how you make commitments to one another on projects that require team effort.
  4. Greatly increases job satisfaction and corporate alignment.
  5. Employees are more likely to take on responsibilities that match their strengths.
  6. Improves how employees interact when things go right or when things go wrong.
  7.  Employees take more ownership in their jobs.
  8. Employees are more highly engaged, ultimately resulting in increased productivity.
  9. Goals are more easily reached and maintained.
  10. Less time and energy is wasted on covering tracks or destructive behavior.

Are your employees owners or renters?

Studies have shown that employees who take an ownership in their jobs are more accountable for their performance, helping lead the company to greater success.

A leader’s first step in building accountability in a company’s culture is making sure everyone owns something. Everyone needs to be an OWNER.

You can’t expect accountability out of your employees if you don’t allow them to own what they do. If they don’t own their jobs, then they are merely RENTERS — renting a job.

What does a company full of renters look like?

  • Turnover is high and consistent
  • There is low employee engagement
  • There are poor working relationships and little to no socialization outside of work.

I remember how exciting it was to move out of my college dorm for the first time. Moving into the dorm was one thing, but that first apartment in college was another level of excitement. I still remember my first shower curtain, which had a spread of aces from a deck of cards. It was so cheesy, but it was mine — in my apartment.

However, before we could move in there and hang that curtain, there was a minor business transaction that had to be executed. We signed a one-year lease and was informed that after a year it goes month to month. We lived in that apartment for exactly one year and moved out. We moved into another apartment for a year and then moved out.

Renting for most is a short-term relationship. It NEVER crossed our minds to upgrade or improve the apartment. After the initial excitement wore off, we just lived there. We actually left the apartment in worse shape than when we moved in. It was a miracle we actually got our security deposit back.

But we all know what happens when we buy our first home. We get crazed and have a totally different attitude and approach. I don’t care if you build it from the ground up or bought an existing home. Our attitude and engagement are totally different as OWNERS versus RENTERS. We care! And we care a lot! Our hearts are in it from Day 1.

It’s the same in the business world. Some companies have a culture where employees are merely renting a job. No wonder they have high turnover and poor employee engagement. The building is full of RENTERS.

And those companies lose top performers too easily. Top performers are OWNERS, and need to be surrounded by OWNERS.

Here are three tips for creating a company full of owners:

1.  Clearly lay out the expectation of ownership when you hire new employees.

2.  When you become an owner, you take the credit and blame. So you want to hire people that love to perform under pressure.

3.  Always show your employees you have confidence in them and trust them publicly and privately. The confidence you give them will encourage them in their ownership efforts.