“Once a year, I pick a cost and see by myself how to reduce it,” shared the CEO of a successful food company. “Because employees don’t care enough to do that themselves. Last year I greatly reduced the cost of garbage bags.” His team later complained to me that the cheaper garbage bags were so thin they had to double-bag garbage – not exactly the great saving the CEO had in mind.

How can a smart CEO waste energy on such tiny detail? You may think that you would never do such a thing, and yet each of us gets hijacked by mental patterns that make us lose our focus.

Your Saboteurs turn you into your company’s #1 bottleneck

Just like in a bottle of good wine, the main bottleneck of a mid-sized company is at the top. CEOs’ automatic and habitual mind patterns that made them successful in their prior growth stage often impede their company’ next growth stage. In many cases this resistance to change comes from inside the CEO’s mind, in the form of an inner voice, that Shirzad Chamine calls Saboteurs in his book Positive Intelligence.

Based on rigorous data-driven research Chamine identified 10 Saboteurs: the Judge Saboteur (that we all share, and that was the topic of a previous post) and 9 accomplice Saboteurs. Our Saboteurs are linked to our greatest natural strengths: they turn our strengths into weaknesses by over-using them. The CEO described above is extremely well-organized and turns into a control freak when his Judge whispers in his ear, for instance in stressful situations. The question is therefore not whether you have Saboteurs living in your head – you do – but what they are and how they hijack your decisions and actions – and slow down your business growth. The goal of this newsletter is to help you in this process.

How do your Saboteurs hinder your business growth?

Your Saboteurs can generate short-term success, but constitute a roadblock to your longer-term success and business growth. “Saboteurs can help you win little battles but make you lose the bigger war,” says Chamine.

They force a tunnel vision and prevent us from considering more options by having us focus on symptoms rather than root causes – the CEO in the example above could have asked himself plenty of relevant questions (“Am I clearly communicating my priorities and expectations to the team?”, “Do I have the right people on my team?” “Do I need to improve my leadership skills?) – but instead focused on the symptoms of the situation, and followed his mental habits (in this case, taking over) to solve the problem.

Consequently, our Saboteurs prevent us and our team from learning from mistakes.

Additionally, they are the cause of many negative emotions like stress, shame, guilt, and insecurity.

Each accomplice Saboteur sabotages you in their own special way. Chamine has identified 9 of them:

Avoider: Focuses on the positive and the pleasant in an extreme way (“everything will be OK”) and avoids dealing with unpleasant tasks or conflicts.

  • The lie: Life is more pleasant when you focus on the positives. Nothing good can come out of conflicts. A good person spares other people’s feelings.
  • The consequences:
    • Conflicts don’t go away and actually fester.
    • Creates delays and reduces others’ trust level.
    • Creates a constant feeling of anxiety about what is being avoided.

Controller: Anxiety-based need to take charge and control situations. In the Controller’s mind you are either in control or completely out of control.

  • The lie: Only if you work hard to gain control will your team get things done.
  • The consequences:
    • Creates other people’s passivity and resentment in the long-run.
    • Prevents others from developing themselves.
    • Generates anxiety, because complete control is an illusion.

Hyper-achiever: Dependent on constant performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation. It keeps you focused mainly on external success rather than on internal criteria for happiness.

  • The lie: Achievement is the condition for self-love and self-appreciation.
  • The consequences:
    • Leads to unsustainable workaholic tendencies.
    • Small glitches can be blown out of proportion.
    • Can fall out of touch with deeper emotional / relationship needs.

Hyper-rational: Involves an intense and exclusive focus on the rational processing of everything, including relationships. Hyper-rationals tend to consider emotions as unworthy of much time or consideration.

  • The lie: the rational mind is the most important and helpful form of intelligence. Emotions should play no role in decision-making.
  • The consequences:
    • Can be perceived as cold, distant, or intellectually arrogant.
    • Can struggle to motivate or inspire others.
    • May intimidate less analytically minded people.

Hyper-vigilant: Makes you feel intense and continuous anxiety about all the dangers surrounding you and what could go wrong. It never lets you rest.

  • The lie: non-stop vigilance is the best way to tackle the dangers around you, that are bigger than you may think.
  • The consequences:
    • Generates a great deal of stress that wears you and others down.
    • Loses credibility due to “boy who cried wolf” phenomenon.

Pleaser: Compels you to gain acceptance and affection by helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering others constantly. Unlike a genuine altruist (who acts selflessly), the pleaser expects something in return: attention, affection, or love.

  • The lie: the best way to be worthy of affection and attention is by pleasing others.
  • The consequences:
    • Makes you lose sight of your own needs.
    • Creates resentment when others don’t reciprocate.

Restless: Constantly in search of greater excitement in the next activity; loves being busy. This Saboteur provides you with a never-ending stream of distractions that makes you lose your focus on the things that truly matter.

  • The lie: Busyness means that you live your life fully.
  • The consequences:
    • Others have a tough time keeping up with you.
    • Difficulty in being present and enjoying the moment.
    • Can lead to a lack of focus (busyness as opposed to effectiveness).

Stickler: Perfectionism and need for order and organization taken too far.

  • The lie: a perfect, orderly world will create more joy and satisfaction.
  • The consequences:
    • It makes you and others anxious and uptight.
    • It drains a lot of energy on things that don’t need to be perfect.
    • Creates constant frustration over imperfect things.

Victim: Makes you feel emotional and temperamental as a way to gain attention or affection. Makes you focus on negative internal feelings.

  • The lie: playing the victim is the best way to attract the love and attention you deserve.
  • The consequences:
    • You waste mental and emotional energy.

Others feel frustrated, helpless, or guilty that they can never make you happy for long. Can turn people away.

What can you do about your Saboteurs?

“Saboteurs work just like physical pain, says Chamine. When your hand is on a hot stove, pain signals you to remove it. The same is true for negative emotions (e.g. shame, guilt, stress): they signal that your Saboteurs have hijacked you.” The big difference is: we often stay in these negative emotions and in “Saboteur mode” because we haven’t learned to identify these Saboteurs and what to do about them.

One of my top Saboteurs is the Controller: it pushes me to micro-manage as soon as I feel that things are getting out of control. When I give in to its pressure and take over, it rewards me with the feeling that we will achieve our goal – but at the cost of demotivating my team, depriving them of personal development opportunities, and consequently forcing me to get back deep into the weeds next time a similar issue happens.

I have two options to deal with it:

  • I can read tens of books about management, determinedly promise myself not to micro-manage in the future, and feel guilty every time I fail at keeping my resolution (and wonder every time what is wrong with my team). The chances of success of this approach are exactly zero (I know: I have tried😉!).
  • Or I can understand the root cause of my micro-managing tendencies (in this case my Controller Saboteur), identify when it wakes up in my mind, and define alternative ways to respond to my mental trigger. This second approach works much better.

Practically speaking: what can you start doing today?

  1. Discover your top Saboteurs with this free assessment developed by Chamine’s team.
  2. Notice when they show up and how they impact your emotions, decisions, and actions.
  3. When you are being hijacked by your Saboteur: ground yourself. Shirzad Chamine has developed a very practical, on-the-go method to help ground yourself when your Saboteurs are assaulting you (I use it a lot, and I warmly recommend it). Please feel free to contact me if you want to find out more: Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.

I work with growth-minded CEOs who are frustrated by the way their business is growing. Often they spend their days fighting fires – typically a sign that their company has outgrown their management approach – and their Saboteurs are the company’s #1 bottleneck. In short, they feel stuck. I know the feeling: I have been in their shoes when I was running a business that we turned around from sales decline to double-digit business growth.

As a business coach my passion is to help leadership teams define their actionable business growth strategy, create a culture of accountability and effective strategy execution, and become better leaders – so they can grow faster and with less pain.

If you too want to grow faster and with less pain, contact me now: Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.


“My company has lots of potential, but I just feel my employees are not engaged. If I don’t push, nothing seems to happen. I’m working night and day and we’re still missing 40% of our targets. I once dreamed of being a firefighter, I guess that dream has come true. All I do is put out fires, I have no time to focus on my business.”

Sound familiar? CEOs and leadership teams can change this picture, it’s all about accountability. Creating a fierce culture of accountability starts with the CEO and leadership team.

Why is accountability important?

Accountability is about owning a problem. You want employees to behave as if they own the piece of business that they are running. When you are accountable for a specific result, you will do whatever it takes to achieve it – and you would like your team to perform this way as well.

Carlos Brito, the CEO of brewing company AB Inbev, summarizes his views on accountability in these words: “We always compare that to a rental car: you drive a rental car in a different way than your own car. With a rental car someone else will live with the consequences of your driving. With your car, you know that it will be yours the next days, months, and years, and you know that you will be living with the consequences of your driving. Employees who behave like owners are here for the long term, and they will live with the consequences of their decisions – good or bad – and that builds a great company.”

Why am I having accountability issues?

Accountability issues are very common among growing companies. When you founded your company, you were personally accountable for everything. As your company grew you started delegating the responsibilities for some results – e.g. production, customer service, or sales. However, you may not have created the communication channels required to hold your teams accountable. Why would you? You didn’t need any of this yourself, and yet you grew your business successfully. Why would these smart managers need anything different?

For one, your employees are not you. If they were, they would not be working for you: they would start their own business. Second, your company is now more complex than we you started: it has more people involved, and all these people now need to be on the same page. Third, when you started your company with a few employees, you could be on top of each of them and had short communication lines: you knew what everybody was doing, all the time. Now that your company has more employees it is impossible for you to manage them the same way: this would soak up all your time.  This is exactly why you need to put a system in place that will achieve what you want (ie create accountability), without you spending all your time on it.

In the book “Creating a Culture of Accountability” Gravitas Impact business coach Mark Green describes ways to increase your team’s accountability. This article outlines five of them

1. Lead by example

Like many aspects related to company culture, accountability starts with you and your leadership team. In order to create a culture of accountability you have to model the behaviors that you want to see in your organization. When it comes to accountability the rule is simple: when you make a commitment as a leader, you have to keep it. If you don’t, why should anyone else be interested in doing so? You can’t complain that employees miss their deadlines if you are occasionally late as well. As a CEO “all eyes and ears within your business are focused on you. What you say and what you do are invisibly and constantly observed, scrutinized and evaluated as your managers and employees are looking for clues as to how they should behave,” explains Mark Green.

Leading by example is not only about you sticking to your commitments, but also about your expectations from your team – and your behavior when your managers don’t meet your expectations. If your team members notice that there are no consequences for missing targets, why would they try their best? Similarly, if you tolerate one of your team members to produce poor results, why would other team members feel pressured to produce quality? When you hold your team to a higher standards, you are sending a strong signal across the organization.

2. Have the right people on the right seat

Without the right people on the right seat, nothing of what you can do will significantly increase accountability. The key question is: would you enthusiastically rehire everybody on your team? I advise my clients to assess employees on two dimensions; performance and adherence to company values. You will find more information on how to use this tool in this article.

Once you have the right people on your team you need to clarify their area of accountability. This is less obvious than it looks. The key question is: Who is accountable for each of the key functions in your company? As Mark Green explains “the exercise often reveals that there isn’t a single individual accountable for each function. When more than one person is “accountable”, nobody is accountable. It is easy to make assumptions that things will get done, but when there is not a designated person to account for a particular result, chances are, it is not going to happen. In this kind of environment, it is also easy to point fingers – Bob thought Mary would handle it, and vice versa. Other times, you’ll discover that a particular role hasn’t been filled by anyone at all; it is just implied that it will somehow be handled. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!”

3. Clarify priorities

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” wrote best-selling author Stephen Covey. “Individuals or organizations with too many priorities have no priorities and risk spinning their wheels and accomplishing nothing of significance,” says Verne Harnish in his book “Scaling Up.” Focus on a small number of priorities that will have the biggest impact on your goals, make sure that everyone on your leadership team is aligned on them – and communicate them broadly.

When employees understand where your organization is going and which role they play in it, they work less selfishly and they tend to make better business decisions on behalf of the company – simply because they can see the impact of their decisions and how they impact overall results.

4. Define clear action plans and metrics

Once you have identified who on the leadership team is accountable for each function and what your top priorities are, the next step is for each of your leaders to answer Mark Green’s key question: “What are the 3 most important results the company expects you deliver in exchange for paying your salary – and how should these results be measured? This step determines the results and metrics for each of your leadership functions. As we all know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you want to increase the speed and quality of a particular service you offer, you should establish specific metrics to gauge those factors and identify metrics and targets for them. You may determine if you reach or surpass a target for three months in a row, you have achieved that objective.” Pick specific metrics, make sure that your leadership team is on the same page and that everybody aims for the clearly defined results – so that the rest of your organization can follow your lead.

Similarly, once you have defined top quarterly priorities, the question becomes: what do you and your team need to do in each of the next 13 weeks in order to achieve priorities? There are only 13 weeks in a quarter – if you do NOT view your quarter as a 13-week race, you will lose weeks and time which you will NOT get back. A weekly plan clarifies what can be expected every week, in order to meet expectations at the end of the quarter. It also makes it much easier for your leadership team to hold people accountable to their own 13-week plan.

5. Establish a metronome-like meeting rhythm

Just as a metronome calls time and sets tempo in a musical performance, so do a small set of consistently executed meetings to hold you and your team accountable, and keep everyone on the same page. The essential regular meetings are:

  • Daily huddles (no more than 10 to 15 minutes) to evaluate progress on the very short-term priorities and identify any blocking issues.
  • Weekly huddles (no more than 90 minutes) to review the status of the 13-week plan and course-correct if needed.
  • Monthly and quarterly meetings to review progress on the priorities, take corrective actions when needed, and identify new priorities for the upcoming quarter.

I often notice that the most impactful meetings to drive accountability are the daily and weekly huddles: they create peer pressure and hence take the heat off your shoulders as the leader. They also improve communication: You won’t need to have the same water-cooler conversation three of four times, as is the case when you rely on chance hallway meetings for communication. And finally they enable collective intelligence to solve problems.


In the end, how much difference do these tools make on accountability? Pretty big, as this example from another Gravitas Impact business coach, Glen Dall, demonstrates in Mark Green’s book “Creating a Culture of Accountability”: “I worked with the CEO of a multi-location dental practice. The CEO had started with one practice that they grew very successfully – and then began expanding. At one point employee turnover rates increased to 200%. The leadership team would plan and set goals, but frequently failed to achieve them. The growth rate was declining. The CEO felt over-extended, frustrated and stressed.”

With the leadership team Glen Dall leveraged these tools to have the right people on the right seat, set priorities and targets, as well as establish a proven system to follow up on them. The result? “After our first 6 months of working together, the CEO told me, “You should be proud of how far you’ve brought the team. I feel that we have accomplished more in the past 6 months than we were able in the last 7 years.” That is the power of accountability.”

As a business growth coach, I work with founders of mid-market companies who are frustrated because their business is not growing the way they want; my passion is to help them identify and remove the growth roadblocks they have been hitting so they can grow faster and with less pain. Often their roadblocks include a lack of accountability: they have no system in place to regularly follow up on their team’s many commitments, or their teams don’t have clear priorities and metrics. I would like to learn about your growth roadblocks; contact me to discuss at Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.

What about you? How accountable is your team? How has Covid impacted accountability? Over the past couple of years, how many quarters has your company reached and missed their targets? What were the consequences of hitting targets, and what were the consequences of missing them? Do you have clear metrics and regular meetings in place to follow up on each of your priorities?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.