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Power, Responsibility, Accountability: Mastering the Three Aspects of Becoming Operational

Power, Responsibility, Accountability: Mastering the Three Aspects of Becoming Operational

To accomplish anything of importance (operations) we need to have Power, Responsibility and Accountability.

  • The power to decide.

  • The responsibility to act.

  • The accountability to ensure results.

This pattern starts within the organization of the mind and expands outward to cover every successful type of group effort.

Sometimes power is replaced by the word “authority” however this can cause confusion when the concept is applied. People are often granted theoretical authority without any actual power, such authority is dead, hollow and useless. Practically it's the POWER that that authority grants that is the key to its utility value.

These are often called the “aspects of management” however in this post Im using the concept in a much broader application that includes management, peer teams and even internal mental organization.

At the personal level

As a child we are born with none of the three aspects of operations. As babies we have no power, no responsibility and no accountability. Over time, as our power to manage our lives increases our parents should delegate to us ever increasing responsibility. Eventually, we should demonstrate that we hold yourself accountable. This process is often called “maturing”. It's very closely related to the development of Agency.

Unfortunately, many parents actions stunt their children's ability to develop power over themselves (infantilization), this leads to youth who grow up to shun responsibility and have little personal accountability. The end result is adults that lack in agency and have great trouble accomplishing their goals.

If you were raised without parents guide you towards mature growth it's still possible to maximize your agency as an adult if you develop within yourself the three aspects of becoming operational.

Give yourself the power to decide

Gather power to yourself. Become stronger physically, mentally and emotionally. Learn skills that give you independence such as cooking, cleaning, home and car maintenance, etc. Get the best job you can and become REALLY good at it, then get a better job.

Avoid anything that makes you weak. Stop self deprecating speech. Avoid or payoff debt. Avoid vices. Avoid lying to yourself. Avoid anyone who lies to you. Eliminate negative programing.

Take the responsibility to act

Take responsibility in your mind. Stop making excuses for your situation. True, you can't control the world, but you can control your reaction to it. Own your mistakes and take actions to fix what you break. Become a man or women of action.

Taking public responsibility and ownership for your decisions will change how you view them. A great example is the public nature of wedding vows.

Take the lead in your life. Stop being passive. Become a more assertive man or women.

Provide accountability to ensure results

Having a schedule, written plans and concrete goals gives us the opportunity to hold ourselves accountable for our actions. Take time each week to review your actions over the last week and plan next weeks activity. Make your own schedule of “performance reviews”.

Build your life in such a way so as to surround yourself with people and institutions that expect you to be accountable for yourself. Give up associates that encourage you to break promises or give in to weakness.

Don't forget to that personal accountability isn't about self punishment or tyrannizing ourselves. It's about holding up a realistic standard to ourselves and giving praise or course corrections as needed.

At the family level

The organization of groups enables the delegation of power, responsibility and accountability.

Share your power

Parents have the majority of the power in the family, especially until their children become adults. To raise healthy children you will need to encourage them to develop their own power. Teach them things that empower them. Model strength and endurance, even in the face of challenging situations.

Empower your spouse and do nothing that weakens them or causes them to get discouraged and give up.

Model responsibility

Model for family members how to plan and execute tasks. Teach them how to get things done. Take responsibility for things openly and clearly.

The division of responsibility within a family is something that should be given deep consideration. Studies show that dividing labor according to natural gender roles increases the satisfaction of all members of the house. In any case, clear communication should leave no doubt in any family members mind as to who is responsible for everything necessary to make the the home run smoothly.

Lovingly hold each other accountable

Husbands have a special responsibility in this area. A major part of leading our families is holding ourselves, our wives and our children accountable for their actions in a loving manner. This means avoiding being harsh, cruel or tyrannical in our expectations and in the correction that we give. Ideally we will give guidance in a manner that causes our family will seek out and desire our council.

Children WANT to be held accountable for their actions. They crave guidance and direction when they “miss the mark”. Calmly reasoning with your children while holding them accountable for their actions (or often lack of actions) helps them to develop the inner voice of conscience that will guide them when they are out of your sight.

At the corporate level

Delegate power very carefully

Delegating power within a corporate structure must be done with great care. It requires skills in the evaluation of personal and the development of trusting relationships to successfully delegate power.

Often in small or family run businesses all the power to decide is held tightly by the founder. This retards business growth as a single person can only make so many good decisions. Deciding is draining of mental energy.

Additionally, as a business grows and becomes more complicated it requires many “just in time” decisions within specialized fields that must be made simultaneously. When the owner is focused on daily operations it's easy for a small problem to turn into a business ending catastrophe overnight unless power is delegated to trusted persons.

Power must be clearly delimited. Exactly WHO has the power to make what decisions? How do we know they are qualified? Can we trust them? Is the power granted temporary? Who has to sign off on decisions? What company policies must be followed? Ask all the questions you can imagine BEFORE delegating power, however once you have given the power to make choices you must trust your decision to delegate and avoid undercutting your staff. Undercutting (or granting fake power) is much worse than not delegating power at all.

The more often that decisions must be run by the owner the slower you can expect your business to function. Run the business too slowly and you can not adjust to market demands.

If you can not trust anyone you have hired the problem lies with you. You have chosen your staff poorly or you have failed to engender loyalty in them. Both problems are correctable with time.

The most important skill of leadership is the ability to read people and engender loyalty in them. A leader that can not trust anyone is a poor leader indeed.

With great responsibility must come power

People LOVE to have clearly defined and important responsibilities. It gives them a feeling of usefulness and worthiness.

Responsibility must be tied to the power to execute. For example: If you make someone responsible for sales you have to give them the power to contact clients, negotiate prices, provide proposals and sign contracts. If they must get permission for each decision their productivity will be greatly degraded. This is especially true in customer facing aspects of your business.

Responsibility must be clearly understood by all parties. Discussion is good. Written guidelines is better. Writing is the highest form of thinking. It requires us to fully flesh out our ideas and commit them to an indelible record.

It's ALWAYS the managements fault when responsibilities are unclear. If you are in leadership your job isn't to DO the work, it's to lead the people who do the work. That means ensuring that they know exactly what's expected of them and then supporting their efforts with clear guidance.

Most small business that are struggling are suffering from unassigned or unfulfilled responsibilities. Usually something that no one wants to do but is vital to success. The most common issue is that no one is assigned to bring in new business (sales and marketing). Sales is the life blood of any business. If your sales person has other responsibilities you are cheating yourself out of new business.

Hold a full accounting

Accountability must be independent from power and responsibility. When people, even people you trust, know that they are going to be held accountable for their work they will tend to do a much more professional job.

Use systems of accountability to reduce risk, uncertainty and doubt in the business process. You may have head “If You Can't Measure It, You Can't Improve It”. While this is true we must always keep the following in three points in mind:

  1. Measuring things cost money so only measure what's really important and necessary.

  2. Be aware of creating a system that rewards “hitting your numbers” rather than real, long term business growth and profits.

  3. If you can't interpret what you are measuring its not going to help you.

Accountability isn't about finding fault, its about increasing profitable behaviour and suppressing profit destroying behaviour. Use both the carrot and the stick but never use systems of accountability to create fear or uncertainty in your employees.

Your systems of accountability must be transparent. Everyone involved must understand why certain things are measured, how they affect the company's success and what happens if goals are not met. It is the responsibility of management to explain these things before implementing a system of accountability.

Accountability flows both ways. Employees will hold employers accountable for providing a good working environment and adequate pay. Clients will hold companies accountable for their promises, products and services. In the end the market holds us all accountable and nothing can hold its judgement back.


Power, Responsibility and Accountability. Mastering these aspects of management, starting within ourselves and moving towards ever bigger organizational structures is a major key to success in our endeavors.

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