Responsibility or Accountability: Just What Difference Does it Make!?


Are the two words synonymous? Is there really a difference? As a leader, how can you put them into perspective to ensure what you plan to get accomplished really gets done?

The outcome of any team is dependent upon many variables. Consider a seven member team that has carefully defined roles and responsibilities to tackle an organizational task. As a leader, it is vital that you can effectively guide the team to a successful outcome. Distinguishing the nuance between the two words (accountability and responsibility) can help you better prepare and succeed.sitting_on_books_reading_custom_book_15399


Having recently studied a stack of CRAP (Columns, Reviews, Articles and Posts) regarding public officials being held responsible and accountable (or not), the two words often seemed to be used interchangeably. As a result, half of the stack was a bit confusing.


Stop 1: find a dictionary.
Here is Miriam-Webster boiled down:
•        Responsibility: the quality or state of being responsible as moral, legal, or mental accountability
•        Accountability: the quality or state of being accountable as an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility.

custom_life_balance_13780Huh? Use one term to help explain the other? Seriously?

Stop 2: use to find synonyms and antonyms.
This stop only added to confusion in the quest for clarity.

Stop 3: ask everyone’s favorite spy, Agent Google.
Here are six (out of scores of hits) showing a range of views.

•        A scholarly discourse by Thomas Bivins, who discusses both terms within the public relations profession. The 20 pages were interesting, but further muddied the water.
•        A practical blog like the Oz Principle suggesting that “responsibility may be bestowed, but accountability must be taken” – the Dalai Lama would love this!
•        A business oriented view by Travis Lindsay that suggests the two terms, “…while differentiated, often occupy the same place” – any sage consultant can use this to raise their fee.
•        An organizational perspective by Scott Eblin who defines the terms by using them as adjectives: “If you’re accountable, you answer for it. If you’re responsible, you do it” – okay, more action oriented, but can’t I do both?
•        Another perspective by Dennis Hooper suggesting a temporal distinction with accountability following responsibility – ah, so they should occur in order – another piece of the puzzle.
•        And finally, in a Monty Python (something completely different) angle, Anna Mar uses both terms in the already complex realm of project planning – ah, let us now enter the Matrix!

One lesson from the surfing safari was a common thread in the discussions: Leadership – both on the organizational and personal level.


The definitions, logic and explanations above all have great points, and I like Dennis Hooper’s best. So here is a simple framework to expand on his discussion. Think of the two terms on a continuum of “planning” to “execution.”

On a personal leadership level you can plan or pledge to be responsible in your role as a mate or a parent. Specifically, you make it your responsibility to increase your income so that you can afford that new car; or you make it your responsibility to assist your children with their fundraising for a school project. Upon executing those pledges (or not delivering), you then become accountable.

On an organizational leadership level, think of job descriptions (either for you or your team). A job description is really a plan for what you or your team members are responsible for. Written correctly, they establish roles and boundaries. Normally, at the end of a reporting period, you are held accountable for what you executed or delivered (or not). And, if you are a leader, you are also accountable for ensuring you hold your team members accountable.


1. Whatever you do, hold yourself accountable before you ask it of others. If you are an organizational leader, you are more visible than you probably imagine. Your followers will emulate your actions. Show them that you value accountability.
2. Be definitive in planning to be responsible. Write it down – in a job description – on a planner – on a sticky – wherever! Use measurable language, specifics and timelines. It will be easier to assess and determine you and your team or organization’s accountability. figure_insert_your_writing_300_clr_14473
3. Include others as you frame your responsibility box. Whether it is your mate, your children or your team, it is a great way to set goals and establish realistic objectives. If it is something personal, consider sharing it with a close friend, mentor or trusted agent.
4. Build periodic reviews into your schedule to assess accountability.  Be honest as to your progress. If you or your team didn’t fulfill the responsibilities, find out why. If you have to devote more resources or energy, do so – and if you are on a team, remember the “weakest link” analogy and act if necessary. If you are successful, rejoice, praise and raise the bar!
5. Consider letting go of old commitments. Sometimes we sign up to become responsible for too much. It’s easy to do. Times change and so do we. So it is important to recognize when we can no longer realistically commit.


The words responsibility and accountability are often used interchangeable, and in the end, it doesn’t hurt to use them that way. Most people will understand. However, as a leader, consider using a continuum from planning to execution to help you think through your roles and responsibilities and ensure that you can gauge accountability for yourself and your team.

There’s a big difference between responsibility and accountability. The most important thing a leader can do in ANY organization; public, private, or non-profit, is to hold responsible people accountable. Be accountable to yourself before you expect it from others. Duty makes the Difference! — Sam Crouse, Ph.D.  (March 16th, 2014, ABC News


If you want to connect with me, click on the LinkedIn icon (located at the top or on the right side) on this site.

Brief Musings on Socrates, Job Satisfaction, Stress and Hobbies


The V4© model applied at a personal level helps you answer these important questions, “Where are you going? How fast are you going? How much “stuff” is on your plate? Is your life adding value?


For many, this is a time to re-assess. As Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Whether you are a college student, homemaker, wage-earner, executive or entrepreneur, the importance of reexamining your path periodically is worthwhile.

Even if you find yourself generally on the right path, there may be some room to adjust or enhance your journey by adding a hobby.


For those in the workforce, it’s a good bet you are part of a growing population that feels unfulfilled in their current position. About a year ago, I started researching job satisfaction at both a professional and personal level. There is a considerable body of literature, studies and polls revealing how many people dislike their jobs.

One study conducted by a very reputable global consulting firm that indicates that as many as 80% of workers have very little or no passion for their job.

Another reputable poll indicated that only 13% of people felt “engaged” in their jobs.


Melanie Winderlich in her medically reviewed article “Want to Relieve Stress, Take up a Hobby” states that “choosing a hobby you feel successful at can boost your self-esteem and sense of well-being. Finding pleasure in this type of activity seems to offer a sense of control, and improving a skill set or ability also contributes to self-esteem.

So why not at least try to align your passions and talents with your need to make a living? Start off with relieving stress and maybe you will find a way to cash in on your passion!


Step #1: Find out what you love to do!

•        Maybe it’s time to take another look at Marsha Sinetar’s classic book entitled “Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood”

Now I am not suggesting that you quit your job tomorrow morning and go fishing, but I am saying that you may want to look at exploring the magic of passion and just what that would mean for the quality of your life.

•        Take the Hobsessment™, a new, short interactive survey that helps you match your personality and interests with some potential hobbies. Then explore those hobbies to see what it takes to get started.

custom_corner_street_sign_14248Step #2: Become great at it!

•        It might take some time, but there are endless resources on the web that “Agent Google” can help you find.

•        Here is a one-stop site that will guide you with tons of top notch resources, associations and tools for each of over 200 hobbies. This funny YouTube video explains it!

Step #3: Find and fill a market niche!

•        There are many, many problems yet to be solved by mankind. In many regards, each time one problem is solved, another potential opportunity arises. There is always a better mousetrap!

•        Christine Clayfield’s recent book, “Niche Marketing Ideas & Niche Markets. 177 Free Ways to Find Hot New Profitable Niches” has over 177 ways to find, hot profitable niches – some will undoubtedly align with your strengths and talents. And, it’s quite possible the book will give you that magic #178 to make you the next Steve Jobs!


Being happy in your chosen vocation is absolutely critical and also attainable. By getting involved in something you want to do, you’ll find renewed energy and even meet some people who have your same interests.

The global economy is in constant evolution and you CAN learn to be in synch with the changes. One of my favorite radio programs is The Dave Ramsey Show. Dave is a master at advising on life, happiness and money. This book, “48 Days to the Work You Love: Preparing for the New Normal” is worth putting on your January reading list.

What will your legacy look like? What will you leave behind?hop_to_something_new_anim_150_clr_14367

So, go out there and have a great 2015! It is a new year, filled with new challenges, new directions and potentially a new you!

Contact Me

If you want to connect with me, click on the LinkedIn icon (located at the top or on the right side) on this site.

Protecting Sensitive Information

Ever since the Edward Snowden case, the U.S. Government has been in a damage control mode.  What network (or pipes) did he use to extract the information?  What methods did he use to defeat the countermeasures, rules and protective procedures (protocols)?  And what pieces of information leaked? Along with his motive, these are the three basic questions that may take years to uncover.

“The only truly secure system is one that is powered off, cast in a block of concrete and sealed in a lead-lined room with armed guards – and even then, I have my doubts.”          Eugene Spafford

Not All Information is Created Equal

Having spent over three decades in varying capacities working on government programs, I firmly believe the same basic disciplines and processes can be applied to the private sector, at an individual or company level. Think about it; what you communicate to others might reveal:

  • indicators of a specific vulnerability,
  • a small proprietary piece of your product or service,
  • part of a trade secret or specialized know how, or
  • tidbits of personal information.

All these are items that a competitor, hacker or adversary can piece together to defeat you, put you out of business or even steal your identity.  

“Even minutiae should have a place in our collection for things of a seemingly trifling nature when enjoined with others of a more serious cast may lead to valuable conclusion.”
George Washington

The good news is you can do something about it. Take a look at the diagram below for a simplified model of the challenge.

  • The black pipe represents whatever network you are using. Unless you have your own satellite or limited, closed network, you are depending on someone else’s pipe.
  • The blue gauges, valves, and meters represent the various protocols. The protocols are the monitoring methods, rules, measures and audits used as countermeasures to detect and identify threats as well as protect the system.
  • The green pieces are bits of information that flow through the pipe (network).


Pipes and Protocols

The pipes and protocols evolve and change constantly no matter what program or platform you use.  As Spafford suggests in the opening quote, it is a huge and almost daunting challenge.  But we can’t give up on it, either.

First, realize that you must stay on top of the pipe and protocol challenge.  Next take some action. That action, comes with some time and investment, but is not only worthwhile, it’s absolutely necessary.

I know how you feel, I felt the same way, but I found that investing just a little bit of time, I learned a great deal that about how the pipes and protocols work. You don’t have to be a geek, and there are some things you can do once you learn and establish a routine. Here is what I found:

  • Updating your site is fundamental in staying ahead of threats and vulnerabilities
  • Better use and management of passwords and the proper use of administrative accounts
  • Understanding the nature of hacking and attacks help you think like the adversary
  • Using protection against viruses and malware
  • Keeping your site clean and backing it up properly and effectively

Awareness and action are absolutely required steps for clean, healthy pipes and protocols!


Understanding the nature of the pieces can be a big challenge. If you put a piece of information, a picture or a tweet in the pipe, there can be some risk! Even if it is only a social blunder! And contrary to some belief, if you later delete or discard it, some digital trails remain out there in cyberspace.

Snowden’s pieces were largely classified. Our jobs and lives, while maybe not at that level, can have similar consequences if not well thought out.  By communicating, posting, chatting or tweeting, you can reveal certain pieces, that we term sensitive information. We define sensitive information as any privileged, personal, or proprietary information which, if improperly leveraged, altered, corrupted, lost, misused, or disclosed could cause harm to the person, organization or operation.

As we try to communicate; whether it is a personal or company website, Facebook, LinkedIn or a Twitter account, the risks are real. We find this to be particularly challenging in the business development arenas. It is a double-edged sword. While trying to get a message out about a product or service, we risk telling our secret. There are ways to do it, but it requires thinking, delicate balance and a collaborative approach, particularly for business.

“Oh, but it is only one piece of information.” I hear this often. Okay, then later you add another, and another.  Pretty soon you have revealed enough pieces to put a picture together, discover a trade secret, or foil an operation!

Process: Protecting Sensitive Information (PSI©)

Identifying your sensitive information is the first of five steps to protect your pieces. Subsequent steps help you highlight hazards, weaknesses and clues. After weighing these factors, you can then consider the risk by examining the likelihood of loss against the consequence of compromise. The final step is to determine what to do – it requires that you or a team make a decision after considering alternatives and scenarios.

There are some tried and true techniques to make the process simple and effective. Although, the process is not considered rocket science, the teams I have worked with over the years can become very passionate, detailed and invested in the outcome.  I have also found that the journey is sometimes more valuable than getting to the destination.  Diverse teams that work across traditional organizational boundaries forge stronger bonds, continue collaboration and ultimately ensure survival.

What About You?

All three elements: pipes, protocols and pieces are important to consider as you think about protecting yourself, your team or your business. Awareness and action in that order are necessary to be successful. No awareness: You are like the proverbial ostrich with a head in the sand! Awareness without action: “Hope” might work for some things but is not the best strategy here! Awareness with action: Means you are working to put a plan in place! And that is good!

Contact Me

If you want to connect with me, click on the LinkedIn icon (located at the top or on the right side) on this site.