When you hear the word “accountability,” if you’re like most people, you probably think of something similar to “responsibility.”
You might think of your job description, the projects you accomplish as part of that job, and the tasks that make up your day-to-day working routine.
In reality, though, “accountability” is all about your core values and acting in a way that not only produces results in line with those core values but demonstrates consistent commitment to them.
To explain this in more detail, we’re joined by the founder of The Accountability Institute and keynote speaker Sam Silverstein.
As a member of the CPAE Speakers Hall of Fame and a Past-President of the National Speakers Association, Sam’s mission is to “empower people to live accountable lives, transform the way they do business, and to thrive at extraordinary levels.”
In authoring 12 books and his years of speaking around the world, Sam’s mastered the balance of “accountability” and “responsibility” better than anyone and, in this episode, he’s here to share it with you.
Let’s dive in!
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Show Notes 📓
✅ Download Sam’s free value worksheet: https://samsilverstein.com/values-worksheet/
✅ Take Sam’s new accountability quiz: https://samsilverstein.com/me/
📷 Watch the video version of this episode and subscribe for updates on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYAr3nGy6lbXrhbezMxoHTSCS40liusyU
🎤 Thank you to our sponsor, Libsyn Studio (formerly Auxbus)! Want the best podcasting solution out there? Learn more here: https://www.libsynstudio.com/
🚀 And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources at https://speakerflow.com/resources/
Read the Transcription 🤓
Intro: You know those moments when you’re doing what you love in your business, maybe it’s standing onstage or creating content, whatever it is, you’re totally immersed, and time just seems to slip-by? This is called The Flow State. At Speaker Flow, we’re obsessed with how to get you there more often. Each week we’re joined by a new expert where we share stories, strategies, and systems to help craft a business you love. Welcome to Technically Speaking.
Austin: All right, boom. We are live. Sam Silverstein, thank you so much for joining us today. It is seriously an honor for you to share your time with us.
Sam: You guys, it’s absolutely my pleasure.
Austin: Oh, well, no, it’s not very often that we get to speak to somebody with the accolades that you have. I know a lot of our listeners are excited for this episode. You’ve been on my radar for a while, for a few different reasons. I’ve just known about you for a long time, but I’ll never forget, we were at the CSP summit for the NSA in La Jolla, California. And you got up on stage with a Samsung Galaxy Fold, the folding phone, and it blew my mind. It was the first time I’d ever seen one in person. I was like, dude, he has one. It’s so cool. It inspired me enough to actually go get one of my own. So, thank you. Without you even knowing it, you’ve inspired my technology behaviors.
Sam: Wow. Yeah, we’re going to have to talk about that because everything’s at my fingertip. I’m actually debating right now whether to keep this or to keep, there’s always something to distract you. But I enjoy it. What can I say?
Taylorr: Yeah. Messing with tech.
Austin: Yeah. We understand deeply. Who would’ve thought you’d have an an office full of stuff.
Sam: No matter what your passion is, there’s always a sub passion somewhere, right?
Taylorr: Yeah, right?
Austin: That’s so true. Yeah. So, obviously, your reputation precedes this conversation. Past president of the NSA, Hall of Famer within the NSA, successfully have made an exit in your own business.
Taylorr: To a Fortune 500 company.
Austin: Right. Not just any exit. Let’s get specific here. So, pretty awesome guy, and your focus on accountability is fascinating to me. And so, I’m curious if there was a pivotal moment at some point in this journey that had you determine that, that was the thing that you wanted to spend your time researching and building materials on and eventually standing on stages and helping huge companies with.
Sam: There was a pivotal point, actually. And it actually happened at a National Speakers Association annual convention. And Joe Calloway, a good friend of mine, was the keynote speaker. And Joe presented probably one of the top five speeches that I’ve heard of all of time. I say top five because I always hate saying the best because who’s to say what’s number one, what’s number; it’s like trying to say this place has the best barbecue. It’s always debatable.
Taylorr: That’s true.
Sam: But his program was all about picking a lane and knowing what your lane was. And in that moment, and as an excellent speaker does, he caused me to reflect and to think. And I realized that my peers couldn’t recommend me, they couldn’t refer me. I have an undergraduate degree in accounting and finance. I have an MBA with focus on management and marketing. I was doing programs on sales, creative marketing, building relationships. I was looking at strategic planning. I talked about personal development.
It’s like if it touched business, I had something on it, but nobody knew what I did because I tried to do everything. And in that moment, that’s where I created the brand ‘No More Excuses.’ And the idea that, really, the foundation for everything is accountability. It’s accountability. And once I came to that realization, I put my blinders on, then things started happening very rapidly and the book started flowing and the content started coming, because I was singularly focused on something that I’m passionate about and that I believe truly is foundational for achieving anything we want to achieve, either personally or professionally.
Taylorr: Yeah. Was that a quick process for you to just land on no more excuses and accountability, was that just an innate thing where you’re like, that’s the thing? What about your past experiences got you to the thing where it’s like, because to your point, right? You were talking about a bunch of different topics before landing on accountability, each with probably their own level of merit, but why truly accountability? What about your past experiences where you were like, that is the thing that this all boils down to?
Sam: It’s hard to say if it had attached to a past experience. I’d been in this business, I don’t know, 13 years when this happened, probably. So, I’d been around and; here’s the thing, I’m just going to put it out there. I believe the message of accountability was gifted to me to share. That’s what I believe. And so, that’s how I treat it. I didn’t invent it, I didn’t create accountability. And as a steward of this message, I have to present it in its best light. I have to protect it. I have to prepare for its future. It came to me quickly in that moment after 13 years, okay? It’s like, oh, yeah.
Taylorr: The overnight success, right?
Sam: Taylor Swift is an overnight success. Well, no. She’d been performing for years when things exploded, and so it was a process. It was a process. And when I realized that I had my fingers in all of these things, where was I supposed to be? And quite frankly, I was having a conversation with my son at the time, and he goes, oh, so what you’re talking about is accountability. And I’m like, yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.
Sam: And then boom, that was it. And then that’s when I committed to that singular focus, the power of that singular focus has been enormous; I can’t even begin to tell you. Look, I could come up with content and talk about, pick a topic. I’ll go out, I can find the topic content, read some books, ChatGPT, whatever you want to use today and talk about that topic, but as a professional speaker, that doesn’t mean that’s what I’m supposed to talk about. And it also doesn’t mean that I’m an expert on it, and why should I talk about something I’m not an expert on? And so, when I looked back at that moment, I realized everything I had done had led to that moment.
And that’s what drove the next book. And the next book was, ‘No More Excuses’ and became the launch piece for accountability. Which interestingly enough, after I put the blinders on and continue to go deeper, deeper, deeper, deeper, deeper, and I’m 12 books in, accountability today; our understanding, my understanding, our team’s understanding is totally different than it was 15 years ago. Because we’ve spent all of this time going deeper below the surface, going deeper below the surface and discovering what it truly is and why it’s such a problem. Because if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, right?
Austin: Yeah. That’s so true. Well, you’ve touched on something that I feel is a milestone moment for a lot of businesses that are trying to grow, which is this weird counterintuitive thing that happens where we restrict our focus and then that somehow creates more opportunity. And that thought process is really hard for people to wrap their arms around, that the more you focus on one specific thing, it’s not the less opportunity you have, it’s the more opportunity that you find and the more you can develop a reputation which makes it easier for the world to find you. You’ve touched on all of this already, but what a perfect testimonial to that experience, I think everybody needs to go through it.
Sam: Yeah. And the words you used, I feel, is the word. It’s counterintuitive. It’s like I need more things that I can sell to more people, because then I’ll be able to sell more and I’ll be able to grow, and it just doesn’t work that way. It’s kind of like, I never thought about this before, but if I was a chef, what if I just cooked chicken, the only thing that I focused on was chicken. I’d probably come up with hundreds of recipes on chicken. And then you become the go-to chef. Oh, if somebody wants chicken, well, go see what Sam; you need to check him out, because this guy is the expert on chicken. You’d come to my restaurants, you’d buy my books, you’d, Yeah. But if I’m doing everything; well.
Austin: Welcome to Applebee’s.
Sam: What’s my uniqueness? And I don’t have the opportunity to get below the surface.
Sam: There are a bazillion people out there that are on the surface of any topic, of any skillset, of any endeavor. And greatness doesn’t live on the surface.
Austin: Yeah. Man, that’s so true.
Taylorr: Quotable, yeah.
Austin: Well, let’s narrow down into accountability a little more here. I think, A, I want you to define what accountability really means to you. And I’d also be hoping you can touch on this phrase of accountable decisions. It seems like that comes up frequently in your content. And I’m curious about where the interaction between accountability as a whole and accountable decisions lands.
Sam: Okay. So, let me see if I can distill 50 hours of content into five minutes and.
Taylorr: Five minutes. Yeah.
Austin: Two or three sentences max, is what I’ll blow through here.
Sam: Exactly, exactly. That’s always fun. So, here’s the thing, everything we’ve been taught about accountability is wrong. Accountability isn’t a way of doing; it’s a way of thinking. Accountability isn’t a way of doing, it’s a way of thinking; specifically, it’s how we think about people. So, accountability is not getting it done. That’s your responsibility. We’re responsible for things, we’re accountable to people. If you hired me to come work for you, and that I know would be a fun job, okay? I know that’d be a fun job. You’d give me a job description. The job description would be a list of responsibilities, not things I’m accountable for. I’m not accountable to get that report done, that’s a responsibility. My accountability lies with you.
So, first of all, that’s a big difference because you hear people say, oh, I’m going to hold him accountable. Well, that’s doing this. Nobody wants a gun to their head. That’s not what they want. If anything, what people want in businesses, they want a leader that will help them be accountable, help them be their best. If you’re going to help me be my best, why would I ever leave? The companies that attract and retain the best people always are helping their people be their best. And the leaders have discovered that they need to be accountable to and for their people first.
So, with that foundation, accountability is keeping your commitments to people. That’s it. Now, we define a commitment as no matter what, there’s no gray area here, it’s no matter what. And we delineate between tactical commitments and relational commitments. So, a tactical commitment is something that’s spoken, it’s agreed upon, it’s transactional. I’ll take out the trash, I’ll get the website set up by Friday noon. I’ll pick you up for dinner at six. That’s all transactional. We need to do that stuff.
It’s the relational commitments. A commitment to live the values, a commitment to stand by you when all hell breaks loose. A commitment to discover your potential and lead you to that potential, a commitment to the truth, a commitment to a good name. There are 10 relational commitments that, in their totality, define what accountability really is. And so, what all of our research has shown is that when a leader is taking on those commitments, because relational commitments are not spoken, they’re just taken on by a leader. You can say it, I can say, Taylorr, I have your back, don’t worry. That’s okay. But that’s not what does the deal.
The deal is when all hell breaks loose and water’s coming up around your home, and I show up with a pickup truck filled with sand and bags, and I’m filling those bags; well, that’s when you know I have your back, I’m there for you. And when a leader takes those on, the individual knows that person’s being accountable to me and accountable for me, and there’s a difference. And I would rather die than let him down, or I’d rather die than let her down. And when people start feeling that way, then everything rises up. Accountability is abundant in that relationship and in those relationships.
Taylorr: Yeah. Wow. I just feel like I had a paradigm open up of understanding from that whole thing. So, yeah, you really broke it down simply. I’m kind of curious, something I’ve been thinking about as it relates to accountability. Because I think this kind of maybe relates to your first point that the way we’ve been thinking about accountability is kind of all wrong. People I think sometimes think that to your point, accountability is more like some responsibilities. But especially in our world of running a solo business or a really small team, people are looking for some level of accountability or they need to be accountable to themselves. Is that even the right way to say that? Can you be accountable to yourself or are you always accountable to others?
Sam: Okay, Taylorr, no joke. That’s probably one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. And it’s.
Sam: Because it cuts to the heart. And it’s something that I struggle with continuously. Accountability is keeping your commitments to people. So, what about the commitments to yourself? Are you there for yourself? Are you taking care of yourself? And I don’t believe there’s such a thing as self-leadership, there are people out there, they talk about self-leadership. I don’t buy that because what do you need to be a leader?
Austin: People to lead?
Sam: You need a follower.
Sam: You need people to lead. Now, there’s leadership by title; vice president of sales. Okay, great. But guess what? You don’t need a title to be a leader. But when you’re leading people and they’re responding and they’re reacting and they’re following, you’re stepping into a leadership position. Well, I’d like to say there is self-accountability. I would say the 10 commitments that I’m referring to, we need to be stepping them out in our lies, but it’s really not for us that we’re a commitment to the truth, a commitment to a good name, a commitment to sound financial principles. These are all things that we need to be doing to live an accountable life, but really the accountability is showing up in my relationship with you.
Sam: So, I take these things on for myself to be that type of person, but my accountability really lies in our relationship.
Taylorr: That makes perfect sense.
Austin: Something that is so clear is how passionate you are about this. So, just taking a step away from the content for a second here, there’s a meta-layer going on that I hope the listeners are paying attention to that like, Sam, you’re not showing up here because you’ve just seen that accountability is an important component that helps businesses and you’re trying to solve a problem. I can feel in your heart of hearts that you have internalized this for yourself and that passion, man, I’m feeling myself get amped up just being in your presence on this subject. And that’s, oh, man, that’s what you want to model. That’s amazing.
Sam: Thank you. I appreciate that. Now, that doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out, and it doesn’t mean that I make all of the right decisions. When I wake up, first thing is I’m thankful that I woke up. Next thing, how can I be a little better today? And that’s not always easy and I make some bad decisions. And I’m not talking about, oh, should I invest in this stock or that stock or that, I make bad choices sometimes interacting with human beings and it upsets me. So, it’s a journey for me as well. But we can be better, that’s the whole thing. We can be better and that’s my goal.
Austin: Well, I believe that. I feel that. So, what’s the connection here with accountable decisions? How does accountable decisions play into this mix?
Sam: So, we have this thing that we call the culture audit. We’ve been doing this for 15 years, and it deep dives into an organization’s workplace culture. And it reveals everything that’s going on in the culture. From stress, to DEI, to engagement, to quality of communication, speed of implementation, the quality of leadership. We measure accountability, I think we’re the only ones that I know of that’s capable of doing that. But one of the things we measure is the quality of decisions made within the organization.
And it’s simply this, Austin. We say these are our values. If they are truly what we believe, action follows belief. It means the decisions that we’re making are going to align with these values. And so, when decisions don’t align with values, they’re not quality decisions. It’s not about the result. It’s about whether your decisions that you make every day align with the values that you profess to have. And so, one of the things we do with organizations, we do it with individuals even, in some of our one-on-one work, is we drill down to create a set of non-negotiable core values, that’s what we call them.
They’re non-negotiable. That means if that’s what you believe, you don’t put them aside. And so, a great set of values has to connect to four things. If you create a great set of values, somewhere in that set, one or more of the values is a professional value, which says what excellence is here in this place of business or in my life. One or more is the foundational value, which speaks to this is the character that I, or we operate from. One or more of the values connect to relational values. This is how we connect and get along. In a business, there are internal relational values and external relational values. For individuals, it’s just the relational values. And then there are community values. How do I connect with and support the community that I live and work?
When your values set connects to all four, and it’s not just about having words, but the narrative, the descriptions, the explanation for those values, when all of that is created, then this is what you’re saying you believe; these are the rules of the sandbox. So, now, you’re making decisions, you’re interacting with human beings, you have choices to make. Are these decisions aligning with those values? If you have a great set of values and your decision aligns with the values, in my opinion, it’s a great decision. That doesn’t mean it’s going to work out. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be a hitch along the way. That doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t going to let you down, but your decision is aligning with those values that you spent time determining were important for you or for your business.
And, by the way, and I’ve shared this with you, if somebody wants help to figure out what their values are, either individually, organization, we have a free worksheet at valuesworksheet.com. It’s a free download. And you can go through that process and either analyze the values that you have or create a set. I find most people will, if you ask them, do you know what your values are? They’ll stop and they’ll think, and then they’ll start to say a few things. But until you take the time and really go through and create an amazing set of values and look at the full picture, I guarantee you’re going to be missing something and it’s going to be hard to make quality decisions. Because if you don’t have clarity on the values, then decisions are inconsistent.
Austin: Man. So, it’s a filter.
Taylorr: It’s a filter. Yeah.
Austin: The point is to filter your decisions through a set of documented values to make sure you’re making decisions in alignment with those values.
Sam: Well, yeah. It’s the foundation. Absolutely. Every decision you make should align with the value, so filter is fine. Yes. And it should get to the point where it’s everything, we are consciously filtering. But those values need to become so innate in who you are that you would never make a decision that varies from that. But things happen, sometimes we get clouded. This is where we hear about mastermind groups, for instance, bringing people together to share best practices. Well, those are fine, nothing wrong with that, I’ve done that. But what I believe in is an accountability circle.
Now, accountability circle. This is not where we get together to hold each other accountable. I had someone tell me once, they go, Sam I’d love to be in an accountability group or something and I’m like, oh, well, why do you want to do that? And I knew the person, not well, but I knew the person. We’ll call him John, I don’t remember his name. But John said, well, because I want to be in a group with people that when I say I’m going to do something, they hold me accountable. And I said, John, I don’t think I’d want to be in a group with you. And he’s like, what? I’m like, yeah. I want to be in a group of people that when they say they’re going to do something, they do it.
Taylorr: Do it.
Sam: And when I’m sharing what’s going on in my life, the choices that I’m making, the decisions that I’m making, if I make a decision that doesn’t align with the values that I’ve shared with them, I want them to go, wait a second, Sam, do you realize you’re making a choice here and I don’t know that this aligns with the values that you’ve shared with us. Or it doesn’t align with what you said your unique purpose is, or your mission is. That’s the kind of group I want to be in. Because that’s where the power is. We need help. I’m not perfect. I need help from people around me saying, Sam, I think there’s a better choice here. There’s nothing wrong with that. So, when the decisions align with the values, I believe you’re making great decisions.
Taylorr: Yeah. So, here’s a little soapbox I want you to get on, ,ainly for your peers, Sam, listening to this episode. But I think we start going down the path of mission, purpose, core values, and I’ve seen it time and time again, where especially smaller business, let’s call it solopreneur in some cases, it’s almost like they write off this idea of ever establishing mission, purpose, core values. And at best, if they did establish them, maybe they got inspired from a book or from you, Sam or something. They’re never put into practice, they don’t make it to the consciously using the values as the decision-making, for example. They don’t become ingrained, innate, subconscious.
And so, best case scenario, they’ve written them down somewhere and put them in a Google document or whatever, but they’re never lived and more often than not, they’re never even written down or established. Does this scale down to our peers? Should anybody running an organization do this even if they don’t have a team? Is this something that works for an individual as well? And if it does, how do we light a fire to get people to think about this?
Sam: Well, yes, it scales down to the individual. Just as human beings, the three of us, we need to know what our values are. We should spend time thinking about our unique purpose. Now, I define unique purpose as what brings you joy in the service of others. Your purpose is not to make money. Okay? No. We need to make money to live, but that’s not our purpose. To survive. We need to breathe to live, but breathing is not our purpose either, okay? So, there’s nothing wrong with making money, but that’s not your purpose. Your mission is your purpose in action.
And so, purpose is personal, and in a company, many times, the purpose might only need to be known by the top few individuals; if it’s a larger company, the mission needs to be known by everybody because I need to know how what I do, my responsibility attaches to the mission. So, to your question, even if you’re a solopreneur, don’t you think it’s a lot more powerful if you know what your values are, you’ve taken the time to think through that? You know your purpose and your mission, and now what happens, because a lot of solopreneurs are attracted by the shiny object.
Now, when a shiny object comes along, you’re able to stop and go, well, wait a second. Does this align with my mission and does it align with my purpose? And so, my mission in business for my company, for the Accountability Institute is to help a hundred thousand executives and business owners build a more accountable business and create sustainable high performance cultures. And I go deeper and we do that through three activities; teaching, inspiring, and supporting. And I define what those are. So, everything that we do should connect to teaching, inspiring and supporting. If it’s not teach, inspire, or support, then we shouldn’t take that on as an organization.
So, I don’t care how many people are in the organization, if you don’t have this foundation, you’re throwing darts, you might hit the bullseye, you might get lucky. You might not hit the board.
Austin: Yeah. So, we’re getting close to the 30 minute mark, and I think that there are a lot of people that are starting to get this lingering suspicion that they need to take some action on this. Let’s have you be Dr. Sam for a minute. And if you were to give somebody a question they could ask themselves to self-diagnose how much they need to put some focus on the accountability component to their business, what’s a question somebody could ask themselves and why?
Sam: Well, I would ask, have you taken the time to understand what your values are? And it’s a yes or no question. So, obviously, then you need to respond accordingly. And then I would ask the question, the people in my life, whether it’s family, friends, your business, would they rather die than let me down? If the answer is yes, the reason they feel that way is because they know you would rather die than let them down. And that’s the kind of relationship you want with somebody. Because if you know that I would rather die than let you down, you’re going to strive to do your best for yourself and for me. And that’s a win-win for everyone.