Have you heard leaders say things like that just before the launch of a new initiative? Or perhaps you’ve heard them utter similar phrases in the wake of a disaster or other scandal. Are you aware that most of them are lying through their teeth? Have you made such statements yourself?
Taking the responsibility for something means doing everything in your power to ensure that it is accomplished or otherwise fulfilled in some way. It also means accepting the risk of possible adverse consequences, especially when you might be personally affected.
For example, you have failed to ensure that proper market evaluations, customer studies, customer surveys, risk assessments, etc, were properly conducted, the results collated and a reasonably coherent picture presented for executive decision before your company launched a new initiative, spent millions of dollars and failed miserably. You hold a press conference and declare “I take full responsibility for this fiasco.” What does that mean? Are you going to fish out the lost millions from your own pocket, assuming your pockets are deep enough? Will you try to salvage the situation by continuing to work and try to turn the project around but at a small fraction of your original pay? Will you commit seppuku in front of your stakeholders? Right, I didn’t think so, either! Of course, there will be cases where you have done all that was humanly possible, executed all due diligence, made sure significant and relevant people were consulted and the project still failed and lost the company tons of money. Those are exceptions. What we are talking about here is where decision-makers have been obviously negligent, gave lip-service to accountability and got off almost scot-free, or at most with a slap-on-wrist.
Do you wonder why good help is so hard to find? One reason is the people who hired the help. Set good examples, and your people will follow. If you are accountable, your people will be accountable, too. But if you are habitually negligent or otherwise corrupt, expect all your staff to follow suit. Those who won’t would already have left you.