In our lives, most of us know exactly what we are accountable for. That is, those things that we have agreed to dominion over and to manage for certain results. But how many of us know exactly what we are responsible for? In our jobs, our relationships, even our countries, many of us have become masters of accountability, yet weaklings in responsibility. This article is meant to remedy that imbalance, and to highlight the remarkable empowerment that comes from living a 100% responsible life.
Responsibility comes from the same root as "to respond." It means in short, "ability to respond." Accountability has at its origins meaning related to accounting. That is, balancing the books. In a job at McDonalds for instance, someone might be accountable for the number and quality of shakes they make, but responsible for every single customer's satisfaction that walks through the door...
We may know people who are impeccably accountable, in that they repeatedly disclose and defend their actions. People that are excellent at accountability will often remind others what they have done, how completely they have done it, and exhibit little flexibility to circumstances that surround their agreed-upon actions. They find comfort in their word, and a scope of involvement limited to that which they agreed upon as "their business."
Masters of accountability often use words like "should," "supposed to," "didn't I," and "agreement". They also tend to take themselves seriously, or at least their actions, and they keep a ready "tally" of what has been done. Keeping agreements is often touted as the highest virtue, regardless of whether what has been agreed to has worked toward any larger objectives. In the case of the McDonalds shake-maker, completing their duties in an efficient manner would be the primary concern, even if NOT making a shake would be a better choice in a particular circumstance.
Then there are masters of responsibility. These folks are more rare, or more likely, less visible. Masters of responsibility know that in their jobs, relationships, their health, wealth, and nation, that they are ultimately responsible. That is, they are able to respond. Masters of responsibility often act in erratic or unpredictable ways. These people know that anything that crosses into their awareness, is something they can do something about.
Responsibility-masters make fewer agreements than accountable types, because agreements may get in the way of doing something that works toward a larger objective. They tend to take themselves less seriously, and use terms like "freedom," "could," "can" and "will" more often then their counterparts. Their highest virtue is more likely to be fluid or indefinable, although their behavior often leans toward service to a greater principal. They will not hesitate in abandoning the shake machine if a little old lady needs help to open a door, for example.
Now, as YOU look at these portraits, where do you see yourself? More importantly, where do you want to see yourself?
Fortunately, there is a wonderful empowering balance of the two that is possible for the adventurous. Once you take 100% responsibility for that which crosses into your awareness, you can act creatively toward making any aspect of your world a better place. And you can be impeccable in your agreements, as you remain free to re-communicate and transcend them.
There is no doubt that responsibility and accountability are essentials in life and in business. I like W.Clement Stone's formula: E + R=O (Event + Response = Outcome.) Be the best response agent you can in order to achieve your desired outcome. Most people want to blame the event, so consequently their response is weak and thus their outcome is less than desirable. It is easy to blame the weather for a bad paint job, it is easy to blame your golf clubs for a poor game, It is easy to blame the insurers for your business problems; however, by understanding this simple formula it is easy to see how one can affect their outcome. The best responders are inherently accountable and their outcomes are typically those that they desire.