We speak of responsibility and authority on a regular basisbut we sometimes forget the accountability that goes along with anything we do.Let us look at these three and how accountability vastly differs from mereresponsibility.
Responsibility means being dependable, keeping your promisesand honouring your commitments to do something. It is accepting the obligationto perform a duty and not blame others when you do not get it done. A big partof responsibility is also your desire to increase your skills and abilities.
Authority on the other hand is the power or right to makecertain decisions without having to constantly ask for permission.
Responsibility and authority go hand in hand and cannot beseparated. A person cannot be given the authority to complete a task and not alsobe held responsible, and the reverse is also true .A person cannot be maderesponsible for a task and not also be given the authority to make decisionsregarding the completion of the task.
Accountability on the other hand, refers to the acceptance of theconsequences of your actions. In other words, you need to take ownership of thetask or action, even if you have delegated the responsibility and authority toa team member. People do not want to assume ownership of their own actions becausethat way they believe they will not face any consequences. To be accountable means you have to be willing to accept responsibility foryour own actions. Accountability means that you are responsible for your ownactions, behaviours, performance and decisions, and you cannot blame someoneelse if things go wrong.
Accountability isthe duty to report on, or give account of, events, tasks, and experiences thatwere your responsibility to complete, whereas responsibility is an ongoingduty to complete the task at hand. Accountability is what happensafter a situation occurs and responsibility is what happens to make thesituation occur.
In the example in Genesis 3: 12-13 the man said, “The woman you put here withme—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Thenthe Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
We all make mistakes but we do not always want to admit it. DrRobert Anthony, an American organizational theorist, and professor of management controlat Harvard Business School, said that “when you blame others, you giveaway your power to change.” Can you imagine what would have happened ifAdam has simply said to God “I am sorry, I made a mistake.”
We are afraid of making mistakes and therefore we try to coverthem up by putting the blame on someone else. Blaming someone else is simplydenying your accountability and responsibility for your own faults andmistakes.
It reminds me of an incident I experienced many years ago whenI was still Area Manager for a retail corporation. We were busy with a bigstocktake exercise at one of the stores and we had completed the stocktake.Those were the days when there were no scanners or electronic devise to assist withthe stocktake. It was a process of counting each pile of stock and completing astocktake slip with the details of the item and then attaching the slip to theitems.
As mentioned, we had completed the counting and checkingprocess and had collected all the stock tickets in numerical order. I foundthat there was one ticket missing and we went through the motions of lookingfor the missing ticket. After several hours of looking and checking and doublechecking, we could still not find the elusive ticket. We could not evendetermine which item it should have been on. It was getting late and everyonewas getting frustrated when one of the young casuals announced that she hadeaten the ticket. She was so distraught and traumatized by the incident thatshe was crying.
This shocked everyone, especially me. Why would you eat apiece of paper? She explained that it was her first time assisting with a stockcount and she had made a mistake on the ticket, so rather than get intotrouble, in a sheer moment of panic-stricken desperation, she ate the ticket.You can imagine the trouble I had convincing the management team that the ticketwas eaten. It would have been easy to blame her for the mistake and her actionsbut instead it was my fault because I should have been a lot clearer in the pre-stockcount briefing.
Blaming someone has also been referred to as projecting andcan be seen as a defence mechanism. They unconsciously “project”intentions or actions they feel guilty about onto others. Blaming can be asubtle form of manipulation. By focussing attention on circumstances and others,they can hide their part in the problem. This is what is sometimes referred to asthe corporate salute where we take on an attitude of “it wasn’t me” and we drawthe attention away from ourselves and onto other “culprits” through shiftingthe focus onto the other person.
To identify situations of blame, we should firstly be awarethat things can go wrong, we can never plan for 100% success. We should talkabout it, not just when it went wrong, but what could possibly go wrong.
The biggest problem is how it affects the person who blames. Whenyou blame others, you lose status, you learn less, and you perform worserelative to others. When you blame, it is as if you are handing over control ofthe situation to the person you are blaming. Blame separates you from yourvalues, beliefs, and commitment. If the problem belongs to someone else, thenyou have a reason to dig in your heels, but if not then you miss an opportunityto grow, to stretch, to challenge yourself. You might miss a chance to changethe way you think or act.
Ask yourself the following questions when you are consideringthe impact of blaming others:
· CanI talk about my own experience without blaming others?
· CanI get listen to my team’s experience, even when I don’t agree?
· CanI let go of the need to be right?
The president of the United States of America, JF Kennedy,once remarked “Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us acceptour own responsibility for the future.”
During the 2010 hearings of the massive oil spill in the Gulfof Mexico by the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, theowners of the three companies at the heart of the recent massive oil spill weregrilled by lawmakers this in the Senate inquiries. Instead of accepting blameand responsibility, instead, they fell over each other in attempts to shift theblame.
Organizations with a culture of blame have a seriousdisadvantage when it comes to creativity, learning, innovation, and productiverisk-taking. That is why creating a culture of psychological safety is one ofthe most important things a leader can do.
Blaming is contagious and recent studies by the StanfordGraduate School of Business showed that “merely being exposed to someoneelse making a blame attribution for a mistake was enough to cause people toturn around and blame others for completely unrelated failures.” This iswhat we have always referred to as passing the buck.
Below are some practical steps you can implement as a leaderand in your team to stop the spread of blame:
1. Be Aware - Be aware of when you’re blaming or faulting oraccusing someone, even if you’re doing it in your head. If you can identifysituations where things could go wrong and then someone needs to take the blame, use these to prepare yourself.
Consider what could go wrong and why it could gowrong. Think of ways to pre-empt this and implement counter actions. Takespecific steps to eliminate blame. This is the hardest part, because it’seasier to find fault in others than in ourselves. We want to be right.
2. Talk About It - It doesn’t feel good to beblamed, and most people fight back: “You don’t notice how much I do.” “I workharder than you do.” The conversation goes around and around, and everyone feelsfrustrated.
Blame makes us feel like we’re alone and can be hardon relationships in the team. Blame can really damage our relationship withyour team and by talking about things, you could solve the problems andultimately maintain the good relationship in your team.
Talk about what went wrong if it has already occurred.Talk about what could go wrong. When things go wrong and it is your fault,don’t blame or point fingers own up to your mistakes and talk about it. Talkabout your feelings, whether you’re to blame or it was someone who made themistake.
3. Be accountable for yourmistakes. Thereis always a temptation to point the finger elsewhere at someone else when infact you made the mistake. Resist the urge to do it and so pass the buck. Letthe buck stop with you if you are responsible for the mistake. This will notonly allow you to gain respect and loyalty from your followers, but you willalso help to prevent a culture of blame from emerging. Own the problem andaccept the consequences.
4. If you really have to,blame constructively. There are times when other people or team members are atfault and the mistake really is their fault. When it is necessary for thesefaults to be made public, make sure to highlight that the goal is to learn frommistakes, not to publicly humiliate those who make them. However, as far as ishumanly possible, apply the principle of praising in public but reprimanding inprivate. If you humiliate them in public they will firstly resent you for it,and secondly, they will never learn the lesson as the humiliation will alwaysbe top of mind for them.
5. Set the example. As mentionedearlier, blame was contagious, but so also is owning up to your mistakes. Asthe leader it is your responsibility and duty to always own up to yourmistakes, talk about what went wrong and lead by example. If you own up to yourown mistakes, in time it will create a sense of inner security for you which inturn will drastically reduce the chances that you will lash out at others andshift the blame. In time your team will start to follow your example.
6. Reward mistakes as much aspossible. Somecompanies are actually starting to incentivize employees to make mistakes, solong as the mistakes can teach valuable lessons that lead to future innovation.
Creating a culture where learning form mistakes,rather than avoiding the mistakes, is the top priority and will help to ensurethat people feel free talk about and learn from their errors. It will alsoenable the team to be more creative without the fear of reprisal.
Romans 2: 1-3 offers us a stern warning if we are going toblame others for our wrong-doings and mistakes. Here Paul tells the Romans that“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else,for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, becauseyou who pass judgment do the same things.”
He goes on to warn them that God’s judgment against those whodo such things (blame others unjustly and do not accept accountability andresponsibility for their faults) is based on the truth or the Word. Sowhen you, a mere human being, pass judgment on, or blame them and don’t acceptthat the blame is yours, you will not escape God’s judgment.
So own up to you mistakes and don’t shift the blame ontoothers to defend yourself. It will make you a better person, a better leaderand people will trust and respect you more.