In coaching and consulting in a variety of companies around the world, we find that there is often confusion about the terms responsibility and accountability.
When we’re looking to help a team or department work through a challenge we’ll hear things like, “Well he’s responsible, but not accountable.” Or, “In a matrixed organization, responsibility and accountability or not so clear.” And then there’s, “Well, Jane’s 60% responsible, because she’s the manager, but Arturo and Elaine are each 20% responsible because they were also involved.”
Here’s a simple formula for shifting towards thriving. I (Chris) learned this from one of my mentors, Dr. William Guillory. He suggests that responsibility is a mindset. For example, if I see myself as fully responsible for the outcome or results of the choices I make and the actions I take, what I will do to ensure my intended outcome actually occurs becomes exponentially greater than if I saw myself as only partially responsible.
In other words, a mindset of full responsibility leads to full empowerment (accessing all of my available resources and finding others where needed). Accountability, then, comes after the fact. It is actually the litmus test for how responsible I saw myself in a given situation at the onset. If I saw myself as fully responsible going in then, succeed or fail, I will take full ownership for the result and my part in it, both along the way and when it’s completed.
Here’s another secret we call quantum responsibility. There’s not just one responsibility or power scale that has to be divided up amongst everyone involved. In a thriving culture, everyone has their own responsibility or power scale. This challenges everyone to step up to full responsibility and informs them about how to best participate. Empowered ownership of the outcome follows suit, with everyone learning from what didn’t work, improving upon what did, and celebrating success together.
Here are the three components to this formula:
Responsibility is the mindset we carry with us.
Empowerment is what we do because of our mindset.
Accountability is the willingness to own the results of our actions, choices, and participation.
In our role as coaches, we’re always encouraging people to ask themselves, “If I saw myself as fully responsible for my role in this situation, what else might I have done? What else could I do now? Who else would I involve?”
In so doing, as we described last week, people move from 0 towards 10 on the Power Scale, creating a better chance to create meaningful change and maintain a thriving state of being. Those in leadership roles can demonstrate these principles powerfully when they are willing to clearly take ownership when things go wrong and to share what they’ve learned from such moments.
There’s a familiar saying: “If you don’t change direction, you’ll end up where you’re headed.” Another similar one says: “You have to do different things to get different results.” And many of us know Einstein’s comment: “Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.”
We humans can be stubborn. Even faced with irrefutable evidence, we often continue along a familiar path, complaining about what’s happening but failing to change direction or do new things. We explore this phenomenon in our book, Thriving in Business and Life, telling the story of two construction workers who break for lunch together every day.
“Cheese sandwiches,” Joe moans. “Every day, it’s cheese sandwiches.” Marty listens sympathetically while he munches on his own lunch. The next day it’s the same story. “Cheese sandwiches… again!”
After four days of this Marty can’t resist challenging his friend. “If you’re tired of cheese sandwiches,” he muses, “why don’t you ask your wife to make you something different for lunch?”
Joe shrugs his shoulders in resignation and says, “Wife, what wife? I’m not married; I make my own sandwiches!”
We all make our own sandwiches!
And, if we’ve become resigned to repetition, in whatever ways that appears each day, what would it take to shift into a greater sense of thriving? For starters, the desire to do so and then, we suggest, taking ownership for our own role in each situation while also reaching out for help. Changing deeply ingrained habits is challenging and it’s rare that any of us can accomplish this feat on our own.
But that kind of deep change begins even earlier, with honest inquiry, becoming aware of the way things are and truly wanting something different. The good news is that you can make a different kind of sandwich, you can move from surviving to thriving. And now is always the best moment to start.
Here’s your Thriving tip for the week:
“Assess where you are on The Power Scale
relative to one area of your life where you feel stuck.
Use your imagination to dream up alternatives,
different ways to be and different things to do
to get different results in your life and work.”
Christopher Harding and Will Wilkinson