On Leaders and Accountability (Part 4): How Mentoring and Coaching Builds Trust


In part 3 on accountability, we talked about the importance of clarity. This is about making sure that people are clear about expectations and gaining alignment in everything.

This includes their mission, vision, values, standards, your peculiar worldview, and the specific goals to be accomplished.

Mentoring and Coaching

In surveying more than 300 leaders from Fortune 500 companies, I learned that two of the attributes they valued most from their leaders were this:

  • “They supported me.”
  • “They helped me develop.”

Thus, some of the most important aspects of leading people toward success–the ultimate goal of accountability–are mentoring and coaching.

Mentor by Example

It’s more important than you can imagine to lead by setting a good example of the behaviors you want to see in others. Leaders actions speak much louder than their words, and those that demonstrate the following characteristics set the standard without having to say a word –

  • Respect
  • Collaboration
  • Teamwork
  • Commitment to Precise Execution

Likewise, you have noticed that the habits of bad leaders (and bad parents) are often replicated by those who come behind them.

As is often the case with children, the rule of “monkey see, monkey do” plays out in the workplace. It’s hard to be good role model, and it’s one of the greatest challenges of leadership.

Being Rude and Bullying

Recently while sitting in with a group of senior HR managers in a Fortune 500 company, I listened to a discussion about a particular manager in the company whose behaviors were routinely rude and bullying.

Surprisingly, the senior VP spoke up and shared the shocking comment, “I used to behave like that routinely.”

Heads snapped around with looks of disbelief and even some comments like, “No way.”

But the courageous VP came back, “Oh yes I did. That’s how my first boss operated, and so I thought that’s the way leaders behaved.  Eventually, another boss saw what I was doing, got my attention, and then mentored me on the power of respecting others. I learned that I could be kind and firm to get much better results.”

Your example as a leader sets the context and boundaries for accountability. You’re modeling what you want to see in others, and you’ll reap what you sow. Click to Tweet

Coach from Your Experience

Typically, leaders have accrued knowledge and honed skills that need to be passed along. It’s the most effective way to increase productivity and build confidence in others. It takes time and patience, but this kind of support of a leader is powerful. The best athletes in the world have coaches, so it makes sense that coaching in the workplace is also crucial to high productivity.

“The best athletes in the world have coaches, so it makes sense that coaching in the workplace is also crucial to high productivity.”

Many years ago as a young Air Force officer, I was assigned to a major command headquarters in my first staff job. To put it mildly, this flyboy was inexperienced and still ignorant about staff work. It was a workplace highly populated with colonels and generals, so the margin for error was slim.

Unfortunately, my immediate boss seemed quite disengaged from work of any kind.

He was either clueless or scared of messing up, because he seemed to always be hiding and not helping at all. Fortunately, a seasoned veteran took the time to coach me as I faced new challenges.

The skills he taught me about staff coordination and collaboration kept me ahead of the curve and really laid the foundation for much of the work I’ve done in my career ever since.

Learning By Trial and Error

Sure, we need to learn some things by trial and error, but in a demanding, fast paced workplace, accelerated learning means success for both the individual and the organization.

I could have learned by trial and error, and I did some of that; but mostly I was mentored and coached by a very busy person who cared enough to spend a few minutes here and there to show me the ropes in my first staff rodeo.

Now you may be thinking, “I thought this blog series was about accountability, but it seems like you’ve turned it into a focus on development.

Let me share a couple of thoughts on this:

  • Always remember that every person is unique.  Some people will need more of your time and support and some will need less.  Figuring that out is part of your job.
  • You should always be developing and positioning your people toward success. Sometimes that means supporting them with mentoring and coaching and sometimes it may mean standing back and watching them explore on their own. It’s easy to stand back; it takes more commitment and initiative to get involved and own your part of this accountability equation.

Accountability as a Journey

Look at the entire process of accountability as a journey–we’re moving down a path that gives the best results for you–the leader, your followers, and the organization.

For the next article in this series, we’ll dig in on the good, the bad and the ugly of accountability.  And most of the time it gets ugly, because we as leaders have all stumbled somewhere in the journey before it gets to a bitter end. Let’s get it right the first time.

Consider your mentoring in light of the example you set. Are you modeling the behaviors you expect in others?  Do you walk the talk of your values? Regarding coaching, do you focus on the assignments and capabilities of each person uniquely? How are you bringing them along to be as skilled as or even more so than you?

*Past Articles in the Series:


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | Book | Facebook | Twitter

His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

Image Sources: incomefitness.com

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Kathleen Bartle on April 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    It is so rare to have a leader who coaches and mentors civil behavior. Most focus on the bottom line and deliverables. It’s so good of u to remind us of the need to look at behaviors and understand how to express those that build trust thru civility and business best practices.
    They r certainly not mutually exclusive.

    • Lee Ellis on April 8, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Kathleen – agreed on your comments. It’s almost always better to channel that results-oriented, dominant attitude into engaging someone in mentoring or coaching moment. The coach and coachee both learn new things together!

  2. J.D. Meier on April 7, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Beautiful insights.

    > The best athletes in the world have coaches
    Well put.

    Early on, so much success looked like magic. I didn’t realize how much happened behind the curtains. As I started to study successful people, I found that it wasn’t just drive or talent. There were role models, coaches, and mentors involved.

    Sure, we get by with a little help from our friends … but our mentors help us leapfrog ahead.

    • Lee Ellis on April 8, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      Great comments, J.D. – we all deserve to have thoughtful coaches along our path of growth regardless of what we’re trying to accomplish.