I’ve been thinking about the difference between accountability and responsibility for the last while. Well, truthfully, I think it’s always been on my mind, or at least in the back of it. I really started pondering what the difference is between accountability and responsibility several years ago while working at a company where there was a lot of talk about accountability.
Systems were established on the basis of “holding” people accountable. Processes were implemented to check up on people and “make” them accountable. It all seemed very harsh, punitive and counterproductive.
That’s when something clicked. I realized that my workplace had changed from one where people had been given the responsibility to make decisions to one where success metrics were imposed on us and the fear of needing to be accountable for things outside of our control prevailed. It stopped being fun, productive and motivating.
We are all accountable for our decisions and behaviour, but the idea of forced accountability turns things into a negative. Holding someone “accountable” takes away their autonomy to look at each situation uniquely and make their best decision. It is better to give responsibility, thereby empowering a person to not only make a decision but to stand behind the decision. To feel pride when it’s the right decision. And to learn from it and fix it when it was the wrong decision.
This is where the fine line between accountability and responsibility is drawn. I would rather be “given” responsibility than be “held” accountable.
Being given responsibility infers trust. Being held accountable implies the opposite of trust. It says: “I have to check up on you to make sure you are doing what you said you would do.”
Responsibility is something I accept personally. It’s taking ownership. It’s up to me.
In my experience, people will grow as part of an organization or community, personally and professionally, by accepting the trust that is placed in them; by taking personal responsibility for decisions and actions that are consistent with mutually understood values and goals.
This is called Leadership. And it’s up to each of us.