In my last post, I talked about how accountability is outside of us — between us and somebody else. On the other hand, responsibility is internal, it’s a feeling of ownership, and is subjective. Responsibility is also transient since feelings of ownership for our lives comes and goes.
The psychology and the language of responsibility is what you and I do when things go wrong. When things go right, we don’t often stop and say, “I wonder who is causing this.” But the moment something goes wrong, a pattern kicks in in our mind that’s looking for reasons.
The language of responsibility, the psychology of responsibility, is about what we think and do when things go wrong.
Responsibility is about how we respond when things go wrong. This pattern is active in our mind all the time because little things go wrong every day.
There’s a mechanism in the mind of every human that’s designed to “help” us cope with things going wrong. This mechanism has a bunch of steps, and when something goes wrong we can get stuck in one of the positions below the line and never actually address the real problem.
The Responsibility Process™ illustrates this:
The lowest step of the ladder at the bottom of the hierarchy is Lay Blame. If you can pin your problem on somebody, then you feel better.
But that is not resourceful, it doesn’t solve the problem because what you’re saying is that you’re at effect and the cause is somewhere else. Your problem won’t go away until somebody else changes.
When you blame someone else for your problem, you are saying the source of power is outside of you.
We can get stuck on these states — of Lay Blame, Justify, Shame, Obligation — or we can get off of it.
Leadership starts with self-leadership. True ownership, true responsibility is the mental place of freedom, choice, and power. It is the place of happiness, success, problem-solving, performance, and resourcefulness.
If you understand this to be true, then only by practicing Responsibility according to The Responsibility Process, and teaching it to others so they too can understand and practice it, can you surround yourself with people on whom you can count — i.e., accountability.
Get Started With This 5-Minute Practice Tip
Print copies of The Responsibility Process Poster for your team. At your next meeting, take at least 5 minutes to introduce and discuss it. Talk about which comes first, accountability or responsibility?
I’ll be interested to hear about what happens.
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Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.