Every business would like to be successful by showing great financial results. They would also like their team members to deliver above and beyond their defined role, contributing to their ability rather than simply delivering the requirement. This is where we call out the difference between responsibility and accountability and more importantly, why business owners and leaders ought to care. One will deliver what’s required and defined, while the other has the potential to yield exponential results. Consider this: an elite athlete, whether in an individual or team sport, has a coach; there are zero examples of an athlete winning a championship without a coaching relationship. That said, there are many athletes that play in intermediate or amateur leagues that perform well, yet do not win. Elite businesses incorporate coaching to make the transition from responsibility alone to the mindset and execution of accountability.

Responsibility in the Workplace

Most businesses easily tackle responsibility throughout their company, whether large or small. Responsibility is most simply defined as task-based. The person assigned to complete the task is responsible. If the task is not completed, then we know the person’s name to call to follow up. The bedrock of eventual accountability is the discipline of responsibility; that is, delivering complete, accurate work on-time (and on budget). That said, a singular focus on the responsibility without the accompanying accountability leaves a business vulnerable to myopic decisions that lack context. Here’s what I mean: if a team member is assigned a task, is nearing completion when they stumble to a problem and make a decision to complete the task as-is instead of researching the problem lest they deliver late work, they have accomplished the letter-of-the-law as they say. However, what if by doing a half-hour worth of research they were able to achieve more for their client (whether internal or external), thereby moving beyond the task to the spirit of client advocacy? Now we are nearing the superior atmosphere of accountability.

Accountability in the Workplace

The critical difference between responsibility and accountability is that the individual that is accountable owns the outcome, whether or not they are also responsible for completing the task(s) and duties. They usually have some combination of decision-making authority, resource allocation, and certainly influence over both. That accountability extends to information gathering, assessment, and adjustment as necessary. This is not the person to point a finger at or blame if the desired outcome is short. This is the person that embraces accountability with courage, optimism, and confidence. Currently, many call this, at least in part, ownership mentality. In ways both large and small, the impact of accountability is undeniable. As a very simple example, it may not be my responsibility to empty the trash; however, I can hold myself accountable for picking up trash I see and taking it out when it’s full. 

Differences Between Responsibility and Accountability

Clearly, the difference between responsibility and accountability is that using both elevates the entire organization to a higher plane of standards, output, and teamwork. Imagine if your business clearly defines what every role is responsible for accomplishing, who is accountable for the outcome, and defines success. Now imagine if every person also embraces accountability for the consistent, durable success – without a formal designation to do so. These are the types of businesses that achieve even greater success, set & break their own records, and attract & retain the very best people. As Jim Collins has said in his writings, never forgo the beauty of the “and” at the tyranny of the “or”. You can achieve responsibility AND accountability, reaping the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards of both – and an executive business coach can help you bring that to fruition.


At Leader’s Cut, you get the guidance, support, and objective feedback to drive accountability throughout your leadership team through business coaching. The Ken Kilday coaching experience is about self-discovery as a business owner and organization where we dig deep to gain clarity and then take action. Figuring out as much as possible about each team member on your leadership team to make sure they are in the right seat within your business is crucial for short and long-term success through accountability. Are you wondering how business coaching works and if I am the right fit for you and your business? Contact me for a 15-minute “meet and greet” so we can learn about each other and explore how Leader’s Cut can help you get after your business goals in 2021 and beyond! 

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