What Personal Responsibility Is and Is Not

What Responsibility Is and Isn'tResponsibility is a mental process — a predictable sequential pattern that operates identically in you and me, and everyone we know of any race, gender, ethnicity, age, level of authority, status, or education.

We call it The Responsibility Process™.

It works the same in all of us. What’s different is our conditioning.

This process — and thus personal responsibility — can be observed, taught, and learned. Indeed it is a practice. Responsible is not who I am. Instead, it is what I practice. All day long.

Most people never understand this. But you can.

Let’s say you want to improve your workplace. Then you will want to understand the difference between formal accountability processes (i.e., delegation and performance management) and personal responsibility.

“Accountability” refers to how we manage agreements and commitments about performance. On the other hand we have personal responsibility, which is internal and best described as a feeling of ownership that affects how we respond to opportunities and problems.

The internal feeling trumps the external — the accountability part.

In other words, if your team exhibits low sense of personal responsibility, then it doesn’t matter how much accountability you assign, negotiate, record, or document. It’s not going to get you the results you want or need.

However if you have high levels of personal responsibility, then any simple accountability framework will work.

Think of accountability as distributive — we take a whole pie (of work), break it into parts and delegate the parts. That’s distributive. But our sense of responsibility is wholistic, not distributive. It is integrative and expansive.

Yes, that means you can own it all, and, I can own it all. We don’t have to get into each other’s way as we’re both solving important problems alone, together, and for each other. I wrote about this in Teamwork Is An Individual Skill.

Let’s not get the distributive nature of delegation and accountability tied up with the fact that you can choose to take ownership of anything. You can own it all.

(You can also feel a sense of personal responsibility for as little as you choose, which means lots of things will happen to you that you won’t know how to respond to successfully —  and you’ll be a victim.

Understanding how personal responsibility works raises the bar for taking responsibility.

Get Started With This 5-Minute Practice Tip

Responsibility is the ability to respond. I commit to being able to respond to everything that is affecting my life. How I respond to it is in my power.

Here is an example: in the last election cycle, I would listen to my friends fret and wring their hands saying, “If that guy gets elected, my life is ruined.” I spent equal time with people who said the same thing about both candidates.

I thought to myself ‘that’s quite a commitment they are making.’ I’m clearly not willing to allow either candidate to ruin my life.

Therefore, whoever is in office is not a problem for me, so I’ve solved that problem. It doesn’t cause me anxiety. I’m working on something that’s bigger and more important than that. If that was important to me, then I’d go work on that.

The same goes with any situation you are faced with at work or in your private life. You can take ownership of it. See it clearly, and take charge.

If you want to understand more, look into the stages of The Responsibility Process™ and see if you recognize any of the stages in yourself. It will help you to move on. You can also click here now to see other posts on accountability and responsibility in life, work, and leadership.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

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2 Responses to What Personal Responsibility Is and Is Not

  1. Susan Mazza says:

    A crucial topic for success in life and business elegantly explained. Just great Christopher.

    Re the relationship between accountability and personal responsibility…without personal responsibility you may get grudging compliance, but you will never have accountable relationships.

    I offer a course called The Art of Accountability. Very symbiotic with your work on personal responsibility. Marked this to explore further.

    • Christopher says:

      Thank you so much Susan. I’m honored you stopped by and left a little trail. And I consider your words to be high praise as I love your work.
      (Dear Reader, hang out here as long as suits you, then check out Susan Mazza’s Random Acts of Leadership blog)

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