The Seven Pillars of Accountability

  • Published
  • By Col. Kristell L. Michael
  • 501st Combat Support Wing
Have you ever considered accountability as it relates to culture? We are all accountable to uphold certain ethical and performance standards. As Airman we have a culture based on our shared core values. Accountability is an ancient concept to which even Socrates in 5th century BC postulated that “to move the world, we must first move ourselves.” Since then, many other noted authors have weighed in with respect to accountability and its role in leadership. Bill George in his book Discover your True North: Becoming an Authentic Leader linked the empowerment of leaders directly to the degree that they were accountable to those they lead, meaning transparent, or authentic (George, 2015). John Maxwell in The 5 Levels of Leadership sees accountability as a relationship-developer between a leader and an employee. He states that holding people accountable helps them to find focus in goals giving them the opportunity to rise to the level of the leader’s expectations and releasing tasks to the leaders you’re developing establishes a mutual vulnerability that breeds trust (Maxwell, 2011, p. 213-214). Simon Sinek in his book, Start with Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action (2011), relates that a leader must first become both disciplined and accountable to their own values and principles, and consistent in their communication and behavior, keeping the why, how and what in the proper order, underscoring the need that, whenever dealing with people, a leader should always start with ‘why’. Peter Drucker (2014) echoes that accountability is the critical factor for success, specifically calling out individual leaders to first hold themselves accountable: “The important thing is not that you have rank, but that you have responsibility.”

Bustin, in his book Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (2012), delivers specific accountability tactics leaders can leverage to accomplish their organization’s strategic mission for high-performance. Bustin’s diagram illustrating the seven principles of accountability as pillars demonstrates their purpose and function: a leader’s strength in supporting the organization and the interdependence of each principle in compounding that strength. Bustin creates a word picture, a seven-letter mnemonic: culture. The mnemonic provides additional emphasis to the idea that what the seven principles actually support is a culture of accountability. One can appreciate that the author’s intent to leverage those domains, represented by the pillars toward specific actions that accomplish the organization’s mission and challenges us all to create a culture, not only of accountability, but of high-performance.

As a Squadron Commander, I am acutely aware that the Air Force Inspection System, which exists to strengthen mission effectiveness and efficiency, assists me to foster that culture in a measurable, and therefore, accountable way. Moreover, the Commander’s Inspection Program would not be effective without each of Bustin’s seven pillars present: character, unity, learning, tracking, reputation and evolving. The United States Air Force core values ‘Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do’ clearly connects with Bustin’s seven pillars, igniting leaders to put accountability to action, empowering and inspiring their teams toward a high-performance course for mission success. It is indeed a privilege to lead mission-focused Airmen that demonstrate core values, not only meet standards, but daily strive to exceed them.


Bustin, G. (2014). Accountability: The key to driving a high-performance culture. [Kindle]. Retrieved from

Bustin, G. (Cartographer). (2012). Bustin's Seven Pillars of Accountability [Chart]. Retrieved from

Drucker, P. F. (2014). The Peter Drucker Collection on becoming an effective executive. [Kindle]. Retrieved from

George, B. (2015). Discover your true north (Expanded and updated ed.). [Kindle]. Retrieved from

Maxwell, J. C. (2011). The 5 levels of leadership (1st eBook edition ed.). [Kindle]. Retrieved from

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. [Kindle]. Retrieved from