The Difference Between Accountable and Responsible Leadership

There is a big difference between being an accountable leader and being a responsible leader.

I have been working with business leaders for the last 20+ years as a consultant and speaker, and I’m committed to showing real leaders the powerful difference.

The following may sound a bit harsh or pedantic at first, but stay with it and you will be rewarded with important distinctions:

An accountable leader focuses on being able to account for his or her actions and results. As a communication scholar years ago I researched “account-giving.” That is simply the narratives (i.e., stories) we make up to explain what is going on — we give accounts.

Thus an accountable leader has all of his or her ducks in line. He knows what he is being held accountable for and ensures that he can account for all the activities and outcomes. An accountable leader is likely a good manager, efficient with time, and proficient with tracking objectives, priorities, and schedules.

An accountable leader attends to accounting for what’s happening — but a responsible leader attends to responding. One is backward looking, the other forward looking.

Here’s the Difference That Makes a Leadership Difference

An accountable leader focuses on accounting for why he or she can’t get where he/she is headed while a responsible leader is going somewhere and focuses on confronting and overcoming the obstacles. It’s a big difference.

Want an example?

I’ve heard many leaders in the past year — on the news and in my workshops — account for their inability to produce desired results by justifying that they had inherited a dire situation or a poor performing organization.

If you follow the lessons of The Responsibility Process™, you realize that there are six ways we can account for failure and let ourselves off the hook: we can operate from Denial, Lay Blame, Justify, Shame, Obligation, or Quit.

We also ask others to buy such accounting for poor results in hopes that they, too, will let us off the hook for poor results. And it is amazing how often they do!

A responsible leader is different in the way he or she views the world.

A responsible leader

is on a quest, a quest that requires her to constantly expand her ability to respond to whatever happens around her.

challenges himself to own his power and ability to create, choose, and attract everything that happens to him. He feels increasingly connected to and in harmony with — instead of apart from and fighting — the world and knows that he gets to choose what

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8 Responses to The Difference Between Accountable and Responsible Leadership

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Difference Between Accountable and Responsible Leadership | Christopher Avery's blog on Leadership and Responsibility --

  2. Lisa Crispin says:

    ‘Accountable’ sounds good until you compare it to ‘Responsible’!

    I like your list of what makes a responsible leader. I would add that a responsible leader also gives her team time to learn and experiment, and tolerates their mistakes, so that they can continually improve as well.

    And I think it’s important to lead by example. What is that Gandhi quote, be the change you want to see or something to that effect.

  3. Thelma says:

    Dear Christopher,
    What an awakening, new lessons learnt about accountability, needs to be done but the focus needs to be on responsibility.
    Thanks for an insightful comparison

  4. Pingback: Vanguard Leadership (or The Importance of Being our own Best Friend) « quantum shifting

  5. Nadine says:

    Terrific article — clarifying!! & useful

  6. Pingback: Crisp's Blog » Guest Post by Christopher Avery: The Difference Between Accountable and Responsible Leadership

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