What's trending in our culture? With nonstop 24-hour cable news channels and social media, we can quickly find out what's "hot" at the moment.

Unfortunately, there's one negative trend that seems to be growing worse every day: the decline in responsible and honorable behavior. Dishonorable behavior is a problem throughout the business world, especially where there is power or money at stake.

If you're as concerned about it as I am, what can we do?


In preparing to write my new book, I read several excellent books on the subject of accountability. "The Oz Principle" is one of the most famous.

I was especially attracted to their third principle, which basically says that when you're disappointed in the performance of your people, you have to point the finger at yourself first. When we hold ourselves accountable as leaders for being responsible, we set an example for others. That gives us credibility to develop them to be accountable, too.

Learn from others

Leadership lessons came fast in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" POW camp — it was literally a school of hard knocks. For more than five years, I served as a young lieutenant with senior leaders who demonstrated honorable behavior under the most horrific circumstances.

More importantly, I personally experienced the sacrifice that it takes to live and lead with honor and accountability. This direct relationship between these two virtues is undeniable, but it's most powerful when we personally apply them as leaders.

If you're specifically looking for strong guidelines in evaluating character during this year's tumultuous election cycle, it requires clarity about what honorable behaviors look like. Here's an Honor Code developed by my team that pinpoints seven ways we should live and lead in our culture:

  1. Tell the truth, even when it's difficult.
  2. Treat others with dignity and respect.
  3. Keep your word and commitments.
  4. Be ethical.
  5. Act responsibly; do your duty and be accountable.
  6. Be courageous.
  7. Live your values.

They may sound simple, but they're quickly realized as difficult when applying them in everyday life and work. No one is immune when the dark side of human nature emerges with self-serving, rationalizing thoughts and actions like pride, fear or laziness that look for shortcuts and loopholes.

In contrast, accountability provides the guard rails that help us keep our commitments and be who we want to be. It is the faithful "guardian companion" of honor.

Commit to your purpose and plan

The best strategy for evaluating leaders is whether they're willing to live and serve with courageous accountability — that is, choosing the "hard" right decisions over the easy, short-term, self-serving ones. By holding ourselves to a high standard of character, courage and commitment, we can indirectly influence our domain — specifically, our businesses, families and local communities.

So take steps now to restore the trends in our culture — engage with honor and accountability. It will help make any leader worthy of his/her position and build a legacy of true success for current and future generations.