“I’m the president. And I’m always responsible,” President Barack Obama said in 2012 after the attack on a U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed.
In 2010 that same leader said, “In case you were wondering, in any of your reporting, who’s responsible? I take responsibility” after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf.
On March 4, 1987, President Reagan addressed the American people from the Oval Office about the Iran-Contra Scandal and took responsibility for his Administration’s participation. He famously said: “Now, what should happen when you make a mistake is this: You take your knocks, you learn your lessons, and then you move on. That’s the healthiest way to deal with a problem… You know, by the time you reach my age, you’ve made plenty of mistakes. And if you’ve lived your life properly — so, you learn. You put things in perspective. You pull your energies together. You change. You go forward.”
All to often we hear someone say, “You have to hold them accountable.” Or we hear a leader say, “I’m going to hold you accountable.” The truth is that it should never be about holding people accountable. We, as leaders, should be helping people be accountable. There is a big difference between the two.
Accountability is keeping your commitments to people. A commitment takes two people. When you are helping someone be accountable both parties benefit. When you hold someone accountable it’s one-sided. There is a huge difference between these two positions. The end result is different.