Accountability versus Responsibility

Posted Friday, February 12th, 2016. Filed Under Voices of wisdom

I believe I wrote about this years ago… however this topic has become relevant once again to me.

What sparked this topic was a conversation I had yesterday with someone who I feel taught me something valuable. We were talking about accountability versus responsibility in the workplace and world whereby the former is more about control especially when you factor in compliance VS being in alignment and flow, for instance with your with your mission, vision, purpose and why (gracefulness).

I walked away thinking about these two words and how they apply in my life. I came to the belief that you can be accountable and not be responsible however you cannot be responsible without being accountable. Let me explain.

As an English major I believe in the power of words. I believe there are better words than others to describe situations, events or things in our life. Often we think that words are interchangeable however there are times I would challenge that. Accountability and Responsibility are two such words. At first glance one might think they are interchangeable. However when you look further in to this I would suggest otherwise.

I did what every good English grad would do.. I looked up the definition online of accountable, responsible, accountability and responsibility. I then looked at synonym and antonym. After that I looked up the definition in my hard copy (yep they still exist) Webster dictionary.

Here is the definition of Accountable/ Accountability:

* Required to explain actions or decisions to someone
* Required to be responsible for something

1. Subject to giving an account: answerable
2. Capable of being accounted for: explainable

Accountability: The state of being accountable, answerable, liable, or responsible.

Synonyms: Answerable, Culpable, Liable, Obliged, Charged with, Obligated, On the hook, amenable,

Antonym: Unaccountable, Blameless, Innocent, Irresponsible, Unreliable, Untrustworthy.

Here is the definition of Responsible/Responsibility:

*Having the job or duty of dealing with or taking care of something or someone
* Able to be trusted to do what is right or to do the things that are expected or required
* Involving important duties, decisions, etc., that you are trusted to do
* Capable of making ethical and moral decisions; able to answer for one’s behaviour.

1a. Liable to be called on to answer (1b); liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent: being the cause or explanation; (1c) liable to legal review or in case of fault to penalties.
2a. Able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations: trustworthy
2b. Able to choose for oneself between right and wrong
3. Marked by or involving responsibility or accountability
4. Politically answerable (British cabinet)

Synonyms for responsibility: trustworthiness, reliability, trustiness, dependableness, loyalty, faithfulness, capableness, capacity, engagement, efficiency, competency, uprightness, firmness, steadfastness, stability, ability, accountability, answerability, liability, subjection, pledge contract, constraint, restraint, duty, onus, boundness, holding the bag, obligatoriness

Antonym: Irresponsibility, benefit, blessing, distrust, exemption, free, freedom, immaturity and immunity.

Here are my thoughts… when someone, a company, organization or government is held accountable there are usually guidelines (job description, pledge, compliance, governance) that control this. When the person, organization, company or government action fails or does not live up to what was “expected” it is explained within this context and there is an arms length. Perhaps the person or company will get a slap on the wrist so to speak or have to apologize and do none of the above for all they were required to do was to “give an account or explain”.

There are many loopholes and as we have seen many people, organizations companies, government actions scathe through the ‘systems’ without any repercussions.

To be held responsible or to show responsibility requires accountability however, to me, goes far beyond this. When a person, group, company, organization or government is help responsible we are calling into question their very moral fibre of their being: who they are… Are they trustworthy? Will they deliver what they said they would? The very conduct of that person, organization or government body will be evaluated and questioned, did they do the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thing. Right and wrong are tricky because everyone has their own definition I would like to expand that to say: did the person, organization, company, and/or government group do what was in the highest or best interest of the people/project/etc.? or not? It then moves away from a judgement point to a higher place.

I believe it is time that we move away from the idea of accountability and towards responsibility. When I asked the man I met with yesterday what he thought was the difference he said the following:

To be accountable is mindless … you show up physically
To be responsible is a conscious act of awareness

I share this with you because it may make a difference in your life how you see and handle things. For the longest time (until yesterday) I would say we need to hold people, companies and organizations accountable and responsible. Today I say it is time to align with those that choose to be responsible and make a difference in the world and through their actions, choices and awareness. This inherently includes being accountable and responsible.

I have a personal matter going on and I apply this thinking to it. The person has never been held accountable for his actions and has scathed through the system; the reason is he can explain his way through everything. Now it is time to hold this person responsible and to show responsibility and if not, face the consequences or penalties.

I know this is a little heavy for just heading into a long weekend: family day weekend.

This weekend be present with yourself, family and friends. And Happy Valentines Day.. Be responsible to yourself and truth!


All my love,


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