Responsibility ≠ Accountability

In his blog, Mid-Life MBA, Eric Back opines that practicing accountability in a church may be over the top. He’s worried about whether a church should, for example, hold it’s pastor accountable for whether or not she grew the membership by 20%—like a business holds it’s leaders accountable for quarterly results. I say that depends on what accountability the pastor signed up for. I don’t think the issue is whether, but how, to manage accountability differently in one type of relationship or group than in another.

But the real issue is that I read in Eric’s words a misunderstanding that I see over and over — a general confusion across society about relationship (or perhaps “role”) accountability and personal responsibility. Regardless of whether we use these two words interchangeably (responsibility and accountability), there are two distinct meanings, and these two means get muddled as people talk about accountability or responsibility—especially when people are emotionally charged when they talk about whether or not someone has been held accountable or whether someone has been responsible.

Responsibility ≠ Accountability (see my Responsibility eTip of the same title). Accountability is the process of negotiating (maybe) and then acting and observing (maybe) and then holding each other to account (or not). It’s essentially the process of making and keeping agreements about behaviors, results, and consequences. That’s all. It’s a relationship process. We could all improve our ability to make and keep agreements with each other. As well, we could improve our abilities to take responsibility when we do not complete our agreements (for whatever reason, intentional or not). Whether you are held to account is not up to you; it is up to others who have expectations of you.

Responsibility, on the other hand, is an internal feeling of ownership. It is an internal process (the Responsibility Process™) of owning or not owning your power and ability to create, choose, and attract.

In my view, the internal (Responsibility Process) is senior to the external (accountability practices). Here’s a way to think about it. If you work for a boss you probably ought to be clear about what you will be held accountable for. If not, you might want to take responsibility for finding out.

Posted in Responsibility on 05/01/2007 05:21 am
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