At a glance, accountability vs. responsibility seems like basic traits anyone would develop naturally in adolescence. Children make a mess and are taught responsibility by cleaning up after themselves. A teenager stays out late past curfew, so their parents hold them accountable for their actions.
However, consciously including accountability and responsibility both in and out of the office is a lot more complex in adulthood. Responsibilities seem to pile on with no end in sight, and the punishments do not include being sent to your room. Knowing the difference between the two and including strategies to maintain them will lead to a more productive and fulfilling life overall.
Responsible means liable to be called on to give an account; able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations.
Accountable means you are subject to giving an account or capable of being explained.
Definitions from Merriam-Webster
These definitions might lead to some confusion. To elaborate, you receive a task to complete or a rule to follow, and that is a responsibility. The results of that task/rule and how you take ownership of it is accountability. Both are a choice you make.
Tamara is a mother of three teenagers. They constantly ask her where things are in the house. She feels she spends half the day talking about cabinets and the other half grabbing the missing items herself. Despite how organized or messy the house may be, Tamara can delegate more responsibility to her children. For instance, her daughter is a rugby player, so she can be responsible for knowing where she puts her equipment and taking it with her to practice.
In the office…
Emmy is a project manager of a software team. She estimated her team would need two months to write and test coding for a project. As the deadline approaches, some of the team members realize they will not be able to finish within that time frame. They open up to Emmy about the number of tasks on their plate and recognize it was more than they should have accepted. She reassigns some of the more difficult tasks to senior-level coders and takes accountability for missing the original deadline when she talks to the client.
Cora’s roommates sit her down on the weekend to complain about her dishes piling up in the sink, her dirty clothes everywhere, and a general lack of responsibility for communal chores. They tell her if she continues, they will ask her to leave the apartment. She apologizes and explains that her late-night shift at the hospital means she needs to sleep for most of the day. Together, Cora and her roommates decide to create a chore schedule that works for everyone’s needs.
Balance is key
Clear, Manageable Responsibility
No matter, if it is in the office or at home, setting clear and specific responsibilities will mitigate confusion and the blame game. “He said, she said,” conversations are not productive for anyone. As a manager, you can better understand the workload and present accurate deadlines to the clientele if your employees know exactly what tasks to do and how many they have. In your personal life, agreeing about who is responsible for a specific chore can guarantee a cleaner house minus the sibling arguments. Keeping an open line of communication and a willingness to understand can elevate stressful situations in the future.
Proactive, Positive Accountability
Accountability might induce a sense of dread because of the constant confrontation of your results. Instead of considering it as a mark of your ability, think of it as a tool of progress. We are not going to do everything perfectly the first time. That is the wonderful thing about growing professionally and personally.
It is also not about justifying actions or placing blame on outside factors. It is acknowledging the results or actions taken and reflecting upon what could be improved.
Want to know how you can implement accountability into your life? Read more on our blog or join IAW’s community and gain access to our resource library, member benefits, and more! Plus, connect with IAW members, like Lynn Howard, who are coaches for leaders who want to level up.
“My coaching services are for the leader that wants to stop sabotaging and start leveling up their life and business. I let you – the client – take the reins and set the pace and focus of our work together. As your coach, I offer my ride-or-die support, mediation with partners, and some serious accountability,” says Lynn.