Hi everybody, today I want to talk about the difference between accountability and responsibility. Accountability is something you own, responsibility is more of something that you do. The story that I’d like to share today is one I like to call “Louie Take Out The Trash”. 

Louie is my son, and when he was a teenager I would delegate the responsibility of him to take out the trash. When I would leave in the morning I would say to him, “make sure the trash goes out”. When I would come home at the end of the day I knew there was a 50/50 shot that the trash actually went out.

The reason for this was because Louie was only responsible for taking out the trash, and ultimately it was something to do and there was always an excuse as to why it didn’t get done.

I was the one who was accountable for waste management in the Roberts Household. The way I fixed this problem was by getting Louie into a room, sitting him down and having a conversation with him explaining that he was accountable for waste management. I told him that I don’t care who he asked to help him; you can ask your brother, your mother, or even the dogs. So when I changed the do, the delegate, and the responsibility to the accountability, all of a sudden I got him to understand that he owns it.

In the end, he was accountable and he owned this task, making sure the trash went out every week. I made sure I was clear about my expectations, holding him accountable to take out the trash. That’s the difference between accountability and responsibility. 

Be careful with your direct reports, if you are sharing with them what they are responsible for, ultimately you are accountable. If you need to keep reminding them to do their job, there’s just not enough of us to go around. So focus on the accountability, and find a way to communicate what they own and what they are accountable for. Be clear about your expectations from them, and let them own it. Give them plenty of room and rope to succeed in their seat.

See the EOS Worldwide Implementer Nugget: “You Can’t Delegate That!” by Gene Roberts below.