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Compassionate Accountability - Difference between Accountability and Responsibility

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Mar 11, 2024

Many leaders feel compassion and accountability are at opposite extremes. Can you be compassionate and accountable?  Nate Regier’s Compassionate Accountability: How Leaders Build Connection and Get Results, shares how each works together to achieve significant results.

Many leaders struggle to balance kindness, care, and concern with attention to results.

Do you tend toward being nice or holding people accountable?

What happens when the situation becomes heated?

Composed - The Heart and Science of Leading Under Pressure Dr. Rob MckennaIn Composed: The Heart and Science of Leading Under Pressure by Dr. Rob McKenna, he describes peacekeepers as those who tend toward the compassionate end of the spectrum, often compromising to keep the peace in the spirit of being nice.

Truth speakers, on the other hand, tend toward the accountability end, defaulting to direct confrontation, and telling it like it is.

The Difference between Accountability and Responsibility

Accountability and Responsibility are each unique. When leaders confuse the two, it leads to frustration, trust problems, difficulty with execution, and potential burnout.

In Compassionate Accountability: How Leaders Build Connection and Get Results, by Nate Regier and Marshall Goldsmith, the authors define accountability: A leader is accountable to their organization for their own behaviors that help others deliver the results.

Accountability is when people have to answer to someone else about an outcome, metric, or end state.

Nate Regier’s Compassionate Accountability - How Leaders Build Connection and Get Results (Book)Leaders Are Responsible for Their Behaviors (No More, No Less)

The only thing a leader is responsible for is their behavior. You and I can control only our behavior, not that of others. We try to influence the behavior of others, but we can’t control it. We are not responsible for other people’s behaviors.

The Consequences of Confusing Accountability and Responsibility

As a leader, you should take responsibility for your behaviors and let others do the same. If you try to take over or control one of your employee’s behaviors, you have crossed the line and enabled them to pass the buck to you.

That’s because they are accountable to you for their behavior.

What It Means to Hold People Accountable

As the leader you have a contract, which in essence says: “I am accountable to my organization for the outcome of your performance. We have agreed on the following behaviors that contribute to our target outcomes. You are accountable to me and your team for these behaviors. My job is not to do your job but to help you execute those behaviors consistently and effectively.”

Holding someone accountable implies that the other person is responsible for the behavior, but You (as the leader) care or are connected enough to the outcome to ensure it gets done.

How Leaders Hold People Accountable

You are not responsible for the behavior of your employees. You are ultimately accountable to your organization for the results!

You’ve probably seen or perhaps endured the consequences when leaders confuse accountability and responsibility. The results are lowered morale, confusion of roles, poor execution, and ultimately a tired leader, stressed out, unsatisfied, and ineffective.

Let’s review a list of leadership-specific behaviors over which leaders have control, and are responsible for executing (See chart)

Compassionate Accountability - leadership-specific behaviors over which leaders have control and are uniquely responsible for executingLeaders often have a difference of opinion of compassion versus accountability.

Here are typical behaviors, compromises, and consequences of leaders who practice compassion without accountability: (See chart)

Compassionate Accountability - Behaviors, compromises, and consequences of leaders who practice compassion without ACCOUNTABILITY

Here are typical behaviors, compromises, and consequences of leaders who practice accountability without compassion: (See chart)

Compassionate Accountability - Behaviors, compromises, and consequences of leaders who practice accountability without COMPASSION

Compassion without accountability gets you nowhere. Accountability without compassion gets you alienated.

Flip-flopping between compassion and accountability doesn’t work!

How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory approaches to leadership?

Balance Is the Wrong Question

The problem with the question of balance is that it’s the wrong question.

The truth is that compassion and accountability are not in tension and don’t need to be balanced. Real compassion includes and requires accountability. Compassion without accountability isn’t even compassion. And accountability without compassion is simply inhumane.

Compassion originates from the Latin root meaning “to suffer or struggle with.”

Stated another way, compassion is about struggling alongside another person. It doesn’t necessarily mean “to take away the suffering.”

Compassionate Accountability - The purpose of life isnt to get rid of the struggle but to find the meaning in the struggleThis misconception can often create a barrier to effective leadership.

Compassionate Accountability is the process of building connections while also getting results.

The first step is to understand compassion and accountability are not in conflict. You can and must do both. Next blog we’ll explore an example of how to achieve compassion and accountability.

To create an environment where everyone is inspired to give their best, contact Positioning Systems to schedule a free exploratory meeting.

Turn your team into a growth organization.  

Growth demands Strategic Discipline.

Compassionate Accountability - A Value for Work TogetherDrama happens when you respond to conflict by struggling against yourself or another, with or without awareness, to feel justified about your unhealthy behaviors. When it comes to drama, we set up win-or-lose situations. That’s not compassion. Next blog we explore a specific business example to help evaluate your behavior in three fundamental components: Value, Capacity, and Responsibility. If you find yourself challenged between Accountability and Compassion plan to join us next blog.

Building an enduring great organization requires disciplined people, disciplined thought, disciplined action, superior results, producing a distinctive impact on the world.

4Dx Cadence of AccountabilityDiscipline sustains momentum, over a long period of time, laying the foundations for lasting endurance.

A winning habit starts with 3 Strategic DisciplinesPriorityMetrics, and Meeting Rhythms.   Forecasting, accountability, individual, and team performance improve dramatically.

Meeting Rhythms achieve a disciplined focus on performance metrics to drive growth.

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Positioning Systems helps mid-sized ($5M - $500M+) businesses Scale-UP. We align your business to focus on Your One Thing! Contact to Scale Up your business! Take our Four Decisions Needs Assessment to discover how your business measures against other Scaled Up companies. We’ll contact you.

NEXT BLOG – Three Fundamental Components of Compassionate Accountability - Value, Capacity, and ResponsibilityCompassionate Accountability - Accountable Compassion


Topics: Accountability, Responsibility, Compassionate Accountability, Nate Regier, Marshall Goldsmith, How Leaders Hold People Accountable

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Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

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