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The Leadership Playbook: Relentless Accountability

I watched an interview with Jamie Dimon, famed CEO of Chase. The interviewer had heard about a list Dimon carried with him in his pocket. It was handwritten, and he carries it with him at all times. The list is pages long, and it is a record of everything that any of his direct reports owe him at that time.

Whenever one of Dimon’s direct reports sits down to meet with him, out comes the list. Dimon holds them accountable to their commitments by reviewing the list with them.

It can’t be easy to run an organization of the size, scope, and complexity of Chase. And a paper record of commitments folded in thirds and carried in your pocket hardly sounds like the sophisticated tool someone in Dimon’s position might need. But it isn’t the tool that matters; it’s Dimon’s relentless insistence on accountability for keeping commitments that matters.

  • Leaders don’t often fail because they have a poor vision. Good leaders normally end up in their role because they can see the future and the path to getting there.
  • Leaders don’t usually fail because the strategy they pursue isn’t right either. Good leaders almost always know what decisions need to be made and what actions need to be taken.
  • Where leaders normally fail is in the execution of the vision and the strategy.

A great leader holds people accountable to pursuing the initiatives that move the organization forward. She is relentless in keeping her people–and their people–focused on their priorities because she continually inspects their progress. She knows what commitments have been made, what outcomes are necessary, and she begins and ends every conversation with a review of these commitments.

Leaders struggle to maintain this level of disciplined focus. There are too many demands for their time and attention. There are too many urgent matters that require that they make a decision. And there are too many opportunities that might be pursued. All of these distractions, even the important ones, can prevent the leader from insisting on the execution of their initiatives.

Execution is about making and keeping commitments to act. A great leader holds her people accountable for those commitments, and by relentlessly verifying their progress, she ensures that the right things are being done and that she is helping where she is needed–and not allowing the organization to spend time on the distractions that might take them off course.


How do you hold your team accountable?

What do you use to retain all of the commitments that your team makes?
How frequently do you need to review these commitments?

Is execution your greatest challenge? If not, what is?



  • The Responsive Edge

    Excellent post, Anthony, and to take it further, in its book, Leadership & Self-Deception, I like what Arbinger adds to the topic by suggesting accountability goes *both* ways:

    “What our experience tells us, and what we try to communicate in this book, is that in order to move from merely dreaming about a culture of responsibility-taking and accountability to actually experiencing it, the accountability has to start with the leader — whether that leader is the CEO, a division VP, a line manager, or a parent. The most effective leaders lead in this single way: by holding themselves *more* accountable than all.”

    To have a sales leader, for example, hold him- or herself accountable to YOU, the direct report, is an amazing experience, one which, from personal experience, I can vouch inspires you to want to follow such a leader to the ends of the earth.

    My two cents.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      One of the best books on leadership ever written . . . and oh so painful to read. It reminds me of George S. Patton’s favorite book (and other in the same line), Generalship: It’s Diseases and Their Cures.

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