Responsible vs Accountable

The M/S Explorer cruise ship sinks hours after hitting an iceberg off the coast of the AntarcticA few years ago I was invited to a select training for future leaders of the organization I was a part of. We spent an entire week at our Corporate Headquarters learning what it took to succeed in leadership not only within our billion dollar organization, but anywhere you may find yourself in a leadership role. The course was called “Building Successful Leaders” and included some time with the CEO at the end of the week. During a Q and A session, he said something that I have carried with me ever since.

The question – “what do you look for in the top leadership of this organization?”

The answer – “you may not be responsible, but you ARE accountable.”

When we all gave him an odd look, he explained it as follows: “Let’s say that you are the captain of a ship. Let’s say that you put someone in charge of commanding the ship while you go take a nap. While you are asleep, the person you put in charge of the ship slams it into an iceberg and it begins to sink. Here’s the thing I need each of you to know – you may not have been responsible but you were accountable. It’s your ship. You will answer for what took place. You may not be responsible, but you are accountable.”

Those simple words have shaped my entire leadership philosophy ever since. No matter your area of leadership, it is important that we understand that we are accountable for the area, team, group, and the people that are under our leadership. Good leaders¬†delegate. Great leaders understand that they are accountable for the results (good or bad) of those that you delegate to. It goes hand in hand with one of my other favorite leadership qualities –

“own it”

As you lead your team, do so knowing that you are accountable. Accept that accountability when it goes well or when it goes wrong. If you “own it”, you can step forward to accept the consequences as much as you can accept the applause. Accountability also forces leaders to make sure that all details are covered before they release the control.

When it comes to leadership, you may not be responsible, but you are accountable.

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