2/24/22: The Difference between Responsibility and Accountability

Sent 2/24/22

This week's Think Better Newsletter is about the understanding the difference between being responsible and being accountable. 

The Idea

My latest article just came out: The Five Stages of Responsibility (aka the Path to Accountability). This is the first of two newsletters I expect to write related to it.

One of the key distinctions I learned that helped me think differently about my training was the difference between responsibility and accountability. From the article:

Responsibility refers to the carrying out of a task or activity. It is focused on the action itself. If you are responsible for taking out the trash, then that means you are the one who must take the trash to the curb. The action is defined and you must carry it out as defined. If the results turn out different than expected, so be it.

Accountability refers to answering for the results or effect of a task or activity. It puts the ownership on the outcome. If you are accountable for taking out the trash, it doesn't matter how the trash gets to the curb. What matters is that it gets there. If it doesn't get there, the blame or consequence falls on you.

We can think of accountability as “responsibility for the results.”

Ultimately, each of these is a mindset. It's a way of framing, understanding, and carrying out tasks. A responsible person focuses on carrying out the task as expected. An accountable person focuses on getting the desired result.

The System

I don't believe it's reasonable to expect all people to be accountable for their results immediately. Accountability requires a combination of knowledge, experience, and maturity. When we lack any of these, it makes sense to keep the focus on responsibility.

A beginner athlete can't be held fully accountable for their results. Even if they have the maturity, they need to gain the knowledge and experience. Owning their results comes with perspective and understanding the context.

Just as we develop athletic skills via consistent purposeful practice, we develop accountability skills the same way. And just as we create a training program with milestones leading to a final performance goal, so can we create a path that pushes an athlete to take on more responsibility systematically. 

My five stages of responsibility is one such path. This graphic summarizes it, and next week I'll dig into it a bit more. In the meantime, feel free to send me your thoughts after reading the article!

The Five Stages of Responsibility

The Question

Are you typically focused on executing tasks or ensuring outcomes?


Go Be More,

Bryan Green
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast

“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.”
– Pat Summitt



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