Accountability Is Different From Responsibility

Distinctions on Accountability

Having worked with leaders from all walks of life and industries one topic that often brings a mix of desire and fear is accountability. High achievers CRAVE someone holding them accountable and those who lack confidence or fear they won’t stand up to scrutiny want to avoid it at all costs.

The challenge is that our relationship to accountability is linked to a fear of failure, criticism, and the constant feeling that we’re never getting enough done. But accountability isn’t about feeling bad about yourself, it’s about having an honest and powerful relationship with your word. It’s about getting invaluable feedback about what is and isn’t working in your life.

But getting there isn’t easy for most people so here is the first of five distinctions on accountability that can help you be true to your word, be honest about your level of commitment, and improve your integrity with others.

Part 1: Accountability Is Different From Responsibility

The purpose of being accountable is to account for the state of something. An accountant doesn’t make money for a business, it simply tracks that money and offers insight into the performance. While some accountants advise, their #1 job is to report on the state of the money.

The same is true inside teams and even inside your life. Being accountable means simply being honest about the state of the things you say you will do. Good accounting reveals hidden patterns, places where energy and time is wasted, and where your real interests and commitments lie.

To be responsible for something means to play some part in the creation of something. To stand for it to exist and to work towards some goal or metric. If you are going to have a baby, both parents are responsible for that baby, but really the mother is more responsible because how she cares for her own body has a direct impact on the health of the fetus.

In truth though, the most accountable person before a baby is born is the OBGYN, because they are the ones with the vital knowledge and information to understand if the baby is developing in the way it needs to in order to have the best chance of surviving to term.

If you’re going to practice accountability it’s important to understand that your #1 job is to be honest about the state of things. The person or people responsible may hope you will let them get away with poor performance (esp. if that person is you) but your job is to be honest even if it’s hard so that those responsible can take whatever actions they need to keep moving towards the goal.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog: Part 2: We usually choose the wrong things to be accountable for.