People often use these terms interchangeably; often believing that they mean the same thing.
If you are interested in dipping your foot into the leadership pool, you must understand that there is a subtle but very powerful difference between accountability and responsibility.
As a leader you must understand that you can delegate responsibility to numerous individuals all day long; but only one person can be held accountable.
Every aircraft I have flown have had multiple crew members. Flying the KC-130 I had a Co-Pilot, Navigator, Flight Engineer, First Mechanic, & Load Master. Each of these five crew members had unique functional responsibilities that were required for a safe and effective flight.
The Flight Engineer & First Mechanic were responsible for all the systems and maintainability of the aircraft. The Navigator was responsible for air drop computations and secondary navigation. The Load Master was responsible for all cargo loads and weight & balance information. As the Aircraft Commander, I had my own functional responsibility with the Co-Pilot to safely take-off, fly, and land the airplane.
But, as the Aircraft Commander, I had the additional weight of being ultimately accountable for everything that happened on that aircraft.
In other words, if one of my functional leaders failed in their responsibility, I was the one held to task for the failure. If my Navigator ultimately fails to navigate me to Hawaii, and I end up ditching the aircraft into the ocean, as the leader I must be held accountable for the Navigator’s failure. If my Load Master damages the aircraft with a forklift while loading the cargo bay, I have to answer and accept the full consequences of his mistake.
Too often we feel justified in throwing our team members immediately “under the bus” once they fail in their functional responsibility. What separates and defines you, however, as a true leader is having the moral courage to protect your team members from their honest mistakes and accept the full brunt of their mishap yourself.
This is easier said than done; no matter if it’s a $5 dollar or $5 million dollar mistake, it’s never easy to stand-up and accept the fault of others. It’s hard to accept this accountability because the reality is you may lose your position, title, or job because of the mistake of someone else.
But that’s the price of real leadership. The good news is that more often than not you will ultimately be rewarded for standing up and taking the heat for your folks. By having the courage to rise-up and accept accountability, you will breed loyalty, respect, and dedication from your team members that is unsurpassed and hard to define.
There is never a shortage of opportunities to truly accept accountability in our lives.
If you want to consider yourself a true leader, be prepared to have the courage to do what’s right regardless of the consequences.
Remember that you delegate responsibility and hold accountability.