Have you ever pondered something, for an extended period of time, looking for some clarity … only to have the answer find you in an unsuspecting moment? I was driving the roads of Chicagoland, on a crisp autumn afternoon, when the answer seemed to become crystal clear.

Having poured over the outline of the first section my upcoming book, ROI: Return on Integrity (due to release mid-2014), I kept coming back to the question … why do so many smart executives struggle with the concept of core values being the most strategic and untapped resource they have at their disposal as a leader? It had been especially puzzling to me given most every executive I had spoken with had confirmed their belief that core values were important.

It felt like a disconnect.

While the question seemed call for a fill-in-the-blank, it should have felt more like a multiple choice question … one easy for me to answer. After all, I had written numerous pages in the first section of ROI describing various aspects of the dilemma we must honestly face to ever be able to build value with core values. It would have felt appropriate to add the final multiple choice option I had always hated on tests … “all of the above.”

While each dilemma I had written about seemed like a possible answer, the void I sensed seemed to keep driving towards the more appropriate multiple choice response of “none of the above.” I perceived each and every dilemma I had written about revealed a reality that any effective leader would welcome the challenge to overcome.

It seemed something more subtle was at play.

So I was left staring at a mental fill-in-the-blank … for weeks. I would let the question wash over me from time-to-time and from conversation-to-conversation. While I would brainstorm possible answers, nothing seemed to explain why a topic coined to be so “soft” really seemed so hard.

Having stopped for a red light, the blank suddenly filled-in for me. Accountability. Not just any accountability. The ultimate accountability. The kind of accountability that is very personal. The kind of accountability where you absolutely know where you stand.

That is, if you’ve specifically defined your core.

It’s hard, however, to be accountable to a core left undefined. It’s also easier to leave that core behind.

Accountability has its benefits … and its edge! Especially when it’s the ultimate accountability. It’s not a monthly key performance indicator … but, rather, a moment-to-moment monitor. I once heard leadership speaker, author and great friend, Kevin Freiberg say in jest “change is an awesome thing … as long as it isn’t happening to me!” It seems that’s even more true when it comes to this accountability … the ultimate accountability measured right at your core.

Ironically, a core undefined or lacking credibility gives accountability a bad rap. Without a defined and credible core, accountability runs amok aimlessly measuring arbitrary statistics that can easily change in the midst of the shifting winds in the marketplace. It is core values that drive the ultimate accountability.

But it’s a very different kind of accountability.

Rather than beating you down, it builds you up. It doesn’t measure what you do as much as how you do it. And in measuring how you do it, it defines the effectiveness of what you get done.

The hard part, for many leaders, is that it isn’t something you put in place to hold others accountable. It’s what you put in place to hold yourself accountable as an inspiration for others to follow. It is precisely why core values are the most untapped and impactful resource of any leader. And while you may think “accountability is an amazing thing as long as it isn’t happening to me” … you will be amazed to see just how valuable you can be when you are willing to embrace this ultimate accountability.

It’s a challenge you don’t want to miss. CLICK and see!

Today’s post is the featured article from the October 2013 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.