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Accountable Or Responsible - That Is The Question

Aug 17, 2007
When I moved from a business where I was the responsible one, to where I was the accountable one.

And it was a shock, I can tell you. It was a shock so vivid that just occasionally I wake thinking about it, even now!

I got myself offered a great promotion, as a result of some big-time management shuffling at the top and a restructure. It was a move to a very big business and a huge change in culture for me. In fact when I got to my first conference, I was just about the youngest there.

Think country bumpkin to big city. It was like 'Mr Smith Goes to Washington' - and more.

I tried my best, putting into practice all the skills I'd learnt along the way. Challenging situations that had been quite a stretch for me at the time. Yet, after six months I was exhausted and crawled back to my boss to admit defeat. I wanted out - and back to where I was comfortable.

He was having none of that and, (very nicely and very firmly), pushed me back into the frying pan - it was that hot!

Then, one day, a realisation struck me.

I was managing things, not people.

In fact, I was the doer of much of the 'stuff' in the business and not managing my people to do the 'stuff' they were eminently qualified to do. I was doing a role that was way less than I was being paid for - and upsetting some of those who were paid to do it!

Immediately I realised, I spent time developing the capabilities of my people, investing time in them rather than doing all the jobs myself. It was a tough call at the time. Corporate world has little energy for those who step back from delivering short-term profits - even when the outcome will be much more profitable in the long term.

And things started to turn around.

This brings me to the difference between 'accountable' and 'responsible'.

Whilst I had the energy and capacity in a much smaller business, I could keep each plate spinning myself. I was responsible for all of it and the often much of the 'doing' too. I worked hard and could cope with it.

When the business became much bigger, I found out that I couldn't do it all any more.

Whilst I was accountable for the performance of my business, it became time to give away responsibility to others, with support.

Firmly and fairly, I gave away the 'doing' and let them get on with it. I told them the 'what' and let them have the 'how', within a few rules we agreed.

It was sure a tough learning for me and, well, if I could, you can too.

A corner was truly turned.
About the Author
2005-6 Martin Haworth is a Business and Management Coach. He has hundreds of hints, tips and ideas at his website, www.coaching-businesses-to-success.com
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