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Accountability Defined

Accepting Responsibility

In practice, accountability usually involves the making, keeping, and management of agreements and expectations between two or more parties, while the term responsibility usually refers to the level of one’s personal ownership of these things. So if you’re accountable for something, you’re usually viewed as being responsible for it, as in giving an explanation of your actions to somebody for something.

Therefore, it can be said that how a person accepts responsibility is what makes accountability work. It doesn’t matter what you are supposed to be accountable for—what really matters is that you feel a sense of ownership. If our sense of responsibility is smaller than the reality of our accountability, our accountability will suffer.

Accountability allows us to be answerable to one another, and gives us a point of focus in the relationship at hand, whether it is with close friends, colleagues, co-workers, our boss, or with a mentor.  Your willingness to be accountable for what you do, don’t do, or refuse to do is a significant trait of your personal character.

When you take full responsibility for holding yourself accountable, you will find your performance and relationships flourish.


In practice, accountability usually involves the making, keeping, and management of agreements and expectations between two or more parties.

Self-Accountability: A True Profile

Kathy[1] worked hard to realize her goal of being promoted from server to assistant manager. She achieved the next level of her dream of success at the age of 22 when she became the youngest person to be promoted to the position of general manager (GM) at a successful chain of a trendy, high-volume, full-service restaurants in Dallas.

The challenge of adapting to the enormous changes in her role at work was complicated. In just one year, Kathy made a transition from constantly being told what to do to the person accountable for managing ALL operations.

The large team Kathy managed included three assistant managers and 50 hourly employees, plus she had to deal with leading people who were many years older than she or those who were passed up for promotions.

The generous salary a GM earned did help compensate for the long hours of work Kathy’s promotion required. But that salary did not solve the problems she had inherited—her restaurant was in trouble. There was a lot of pressure to achieve the specific directives was given to Kathy by her district manager (who often popped in for surprise visits during rush times).

Mostly because of her age, Kathy felt unsure of her new power. Now she could hire and fire. Her staff obediently followed her directions but her decisions were often influenced by her immature power trip. As the GM she could be late for work, or miss deadlines, or run out of food and no one would say a thing—except the angry customers that called the corporate office to complain. Her employee turnover and food cost were high and sales were on a downward spiral.

Kathy believed her employees who said she was amazing or that things were better than ever since Kathy took charge. But things were worse.

Even though her district manager was not directly supervising Kathy during all hours of operations, the results her restaurant showed clearly meant that the new GM was not meeting standards.

“I had to do something… I was worried that I would be demoted. One day though, I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment and realized that because no one watched me I had to figure out how to supervise myself. Yep. I had to shrink my big ego or wait for a demotion to do that job. Because I was so young and quickly promoted, I naively allowed my employees to fluff up my ego, and actually believed what my employees said about my performance. I realized I was not so great and wanted to do better. Because no one was supervising me, I had to learn to supervise myself. No one could tell me I had done a good job but me. I tried to smile when others complimented me, then say thank you and not let it go to my head. I needed to be self-accountable and pat myself on the back when I had done well and self-correct when I screwed up.

“I stopped letting complements build up my ego. I started listening to input from my staff specific to what we could correct that had made it tough to work. When I started holding myself accountable everything changed. The results were amazing. We were making a profit, I became more confident, my employees were happier and my customers and district manager were also happy.”

[1] The name of the person has been changed.


Making the first steps in self-awareness can start you on the path of holding yourself accountable. That can be as easy as following through with your commitments and responsibilities.  In short, it’s doing what YOU know YOU should be doing when YOU should be doing it and having the courage to do it even when no one is watching.

When your personal accountability is high, you’ll find yourself being distinguished from the crowd and rising above your contemporaries whether it’s at your work or during your personal activities.

List of Accountability Actions to Consider

Self-monitor: Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Praise and objectively review your own actions.

Assess Your Progress Regularly: Be willing to stop an activity long enough to be sure you’re in line with the desired results.

Look and Listen:  Hone your ability to see the issues and listen to the input from other people.

Own It:  Make the choice to take personal responsibility and be a part of the solution.

Think About It:  Engage your mind.  Critically focus on identifying the desired outcome.

Plan It: An effective plan maximizes results.  Prioritize the steps and set realistic dates for completion of each step.

Act On It: Taking action guarantees progress.  Actively and relentlessly pursue your goal.

Learn from Mistakes: Learning from mistakes ensures that you won’t make them again and improves your knowledge and chances for meeting your goals.

Take Away

Implementing these accountability actions will help you develop a high level of responsibility.  When you accept complete responsibility for your behavior, interesting things begin to happen.  You’ll find yourself meeting or exceeding expectations.  You’ll also be able to fearlessly admit mistakes and your own knowledge limitations. Remember, accountability and responsibility work hand in hand and your awareness of how you fit within its framework empowers your performance and the successful outcomes you will reach.