The Effective Executive – Accountability vs Responsibility


Veteran, new and aspiring executives need methods to be successful in their organization. There are 1000s of leadership podcasts, videos, blogs, and articles but few authors address what to do or how to do it.

We have witnessed many executives who are efficient (doing things right), but few executives are effective (doing the right things). We believe this is misguided and aim to remedy the shortfall with executives.

This is the 13th episode of the Effective Executive podcast. In this episode, Tripp discusses the important differences between accountability and responsibility. Download our FREE Effective Executive Starter Kit.
Resources mentioned in this episode:

Show Notes

The Effective Executive – Episode 13

Definition of Accountability vs Responsibility

Making Your Frontline Employees Responsible




Tripp Babbitt: [00:00:00] Do you know the difference between accountability and responsibility? We’ll explore this in this episode. Back in 2011, I read an article in the Atlantic titled What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland School System. Now, Finland, back in 2011 especially, but even today has one of the finest education systems by virtue of how they perform on international tests, you know, right up there with the Chinese. But there are huge differences between them and they’re not going to go into all of that. But Finland was all the rage, especially back in the early around 2010, 2011, and the US not so much. We’re always kind of in the middle of the pack as far as our education system goes. So Pasi Sahlberg and I’m probably butchering the poor guy’s name, was interviewed for the article. And Sj√∂berg hosted about 100 visits a year from other countries that wanted to know, you know, what their secret was to their education system, but there was one question that really caught my eye while I was reading this article, and it helped put some things into perspective for me, a better way, I guess, to communicate with executives. And the question was, how can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? And the response included was very interesting to me. It included that Finland does not do any standardized national tests. They the teachers, basically create individual tests for students to evaluate them. Now, I want to get the rest of this right. So I’m going to I want to make sure I get these quotes down because they’re kind of important to the to this episode. But what Sahlberg said next in this article hit me right between the eyes. It gave me tremendous pause.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:02:14] And he said this. He says, As for accountability, there’s no word for accountability in Finnish. Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted. Now, teachers in Finland are given prestige, they are given decent pay and they’re given lots of responsibility, differentiating accountable to me means now that you’re accountable to the system that people put you in.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:02:50] So when you look at your front line employees, they don’t have a lot of control typically over their work. They don’t have much control over how they’re motivated or paid. None of those things do they have control over. So the only thing that they can be is accountable. There is no responsibility at the front line level.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:03:11] And for me, you know, taking a view. The view that an executive can take on their front line employees can make or break your organization, if you look at your employees as interchangeable parts, that you can just get rid of one and get the next one in at the cheapest price that we can possibly get it, then, of course, you’re going to develop a system or have a system in place that’s going to make them accountable because you’ve given them no responsibility, nor are you hiring people within your organization to give them responsibility because you’re trying to hire for the cheapest as opposed to what can make your system better.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:03:57] So an effective executive recognizes this. So my message for this episode is your system needs to constantly improve, innovate and create value for customers.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:04:14] So don’t hold people accountable, make them responsible by having them make decisions about their own work, how to improve it through new ideas. The result is better, more enjoyable work for your front line workers and a plethora of new ideas to create value for customers.

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