It is like a three legged stool in which all three legs must fit. If any one of the three is missing the stool will not stand. Likewise, responsibility, authority and accountability must be implicit. The absence of any renders this 'understanding' invalid.
This equation is not new, nor is it rocket science. Yet I am amazed how frequently it is not properly understood and deployed.
I see responsibility without authority. How can anyone be held accountable for the results?
I see authority without a clear definition of the responsibility to which it is attached. This is a recipe for disaster because the expectations of the parties may be completely different.
And I see too many situations where responsibility and authority are granted but there is no accountability for the results. In my view this is like playing the game but not keeping score. That sounds like practice not competition!
In this discussion there is also a significant misunderstanding with respect to delegation of authority. Too often the person delegating authority believes that they have also delegated the accountability. NO SO!!!!
You cannot evade the outcome that easily. These people are quick to accept the acclaim when delegated authority produces a great result. But they are equally adept at avoiding the fallout when things don`t go so well. This person is the classic 'accountability deflector' and the more senior the person, the more adept many become at the game.
As example, the CEO of a major Toronto corporation recently terminated two senior members of his staff because a project under their scope of responsibility had gone over budget by some $400 million and was years late in completion. I don't have a problem in principle with the terminations but in a classic case of 'accountability deflector' - the CEO - ought to be held to account as well.
What was magic about $400 million and years late as a threshold for a decision. Clearly if he was doing his job in an accountable fashion he should have been ringing the alarm bell when the project was over budget and late by any amount. A project of this magnitude most certainly should have been on his radar and responded to in a much timelier manner. And I hold the Board of Directors equally accountable for their failure to have safeguards in place to prevent this type of incompetence.
A surefire way to disengage your staff is by your abuse of this critical issue of accountability. To deny it in difficult circumstances or to pilfer it in good have an equally negative impact on your credibility and on the commitment you can expect from others.
Leadership comes with much privilege...privilege which typically increases with the level of responsibility. Failures happen at every level; perfection is only a goal that none of us ever reach.
So step up and take the blows that come with being accountable. It builds character; it builds respect; and to the attentive listener it teaches lessons that lead to future successes.