Healthy Responsibility Explained with Examples


"You are not responsible for your circumstances;

you are response-able in the face of your circumstances."

Fred Kofman, Conscious Business


We’ve written quite a bit about the concept of healthy responsibility as a sustainability practice for leaders and teams. It’s the through line of our work. The key here is “healthy” responsibility, which means taking 100% responsibility, not more, not less.


What is healthy responsibility?

It’s your ability to respond to a situation coupled with taking ownership of the results you create. For example, your team member asks for Friday off to visit his niece who is in the hospital. It’s a crunch time for your team’s project, and you reluctantly agree to his request, feeling like you have no choice. Then you complain when the project isn’t completed on time, kicking yourself and him for the lost time. That’s taking less than healthy responsibility. The response that comes from believing you have no choice is an example of under-functioning.


On the other hand, you can respond automatically to grant the request, out of a sense of obligation, feeling really irritated but not expressing it. Then you work late on Friday and call on others at the last minute to also work late to fulfill the project deadline. In this case, you notice you resent the employee for taking off, and feel bitter about being exhausted going into the weekend. That’s taking more than 100% responsibility. This is an example of over-functioning.


Or, you can sit with the request, tune in to your internal signals, registering any feelings, and come to a yes because your highest value is supporting the team. You say yes to the request AND ask the employee to take 100% responsibility in making sure his part of the project is covered by others so the project can complete on time. He considers and asks you if you’d be willing to take on a specific aspect of the project (writing the executive summary), and he will ask others to take on other aspects. Everyone, including the employee, takes 100% responsibility for their decisions to help out. When they finish the project on Friday, no one complains or resents the employee’s absence or the extra work they did, because they all made conscious choices.


Responsibility is an action, and you always have a choice whether to take some kind of action or take no action. The choice — or rather, the pretense that you have no choice — is where the imbalance happens. Taking healthy responsibility means continually responding to situations at hand, choosing aspects that you can influence and scrupulously acknowledging your sovereignty. Choosing to over- or under-function is voluntary. The results you create will tell you whether you went awry on responsibility.


Leaders: how you model responsibility will drive your culture and results. Leaders who show up on the 200% end of the scale will unconsciously model this behavior — a straight path to burnout — to their teams. Leaders who consistently take less than 100% responsibility will foster a victim culture. America’s nonstop work culture reflects major responsibility imbalances; for example, compensation packages that reward people for taking 200% responsibility instead of rewarding them for taking healthy responsibility.


The responsibility scale below gives you an idea of what the outcomes of unhealthy responsibility look like on the two ends of the spectrum:


Created and used with permission by Anna McGrath, godfreydadich.com

A lot of managers and leaders say they want “accountability” in their teams. Because accountability is sometimes a code word for blaming, we prefer to encourage teams to learn and implement a culture of healthy responsibility instead.


Teams who use healthy responsibility are more efficient with their time. An example of this is the team at a marketing company we have been working with over time. Since being introduced to the concept of healthy responsibility, team members have been integrating it with positive results.


Julianna recently observed two colleagues in a meeting where one gave feedback to the other. This included some key feelings the speaker had been withholding, and as a result had distanced herself from her colleague. Because these two are collaborators on multiple projects, the withheld feedback created distance between the two, dampening the collaborative efforts.


The result of withholding is much like a car with a tire that’s slowly leaking air — there’s a drag on car’s energy.


These kind of clearing meetings, if done at all, are often sweaty, drawn-out conversations with residual emotions lingering and/or defensive behaviors taking over. But by skillfully using the concept of 100% responsibility, these two completed the entire feedback process in about 20 minutes. Their process was incredibly efficient! The person giving the feedback owned her part, the person receiving owned hers. They used the remaining part of the hour for coaching on other issues, expanding their collaboration and communication skills. The extra 40 minutes — which, without skills, could have been spent churning in blame/defend — was spent in true collaboration and a deeper level of trust was gained . Imagine how much energy would be liberated and productivity gained if your teams fully integrated healthy responsibility?


If you want to increase team collaboration and introduce a proven method for increasing productivity, then learn, model and teach healthy responsibility.


Responsibility Reset Course

We’ve made learning about healthy responsibility easy and fun! We created a 30-minute animated course on Udemy. 100% of the people who have taken it have responded it was valuable.


For less than $25, each member of your team will have shared language and tools that support a productive culture — Check it out!


What people are saying about Responsibility Reset

“It was excellent. High yield information in a manageable time frame with helpful examples that helped clarify individual behaviors and organizational culture.”

— Dr. M, physician


“This course is good for teams because it can curb negative behaviors from occurring by getting them to focus on 100% responsibility and therefore better productivity.”

— Andy M, pilot


About Crafted Leadership, LLC

Crafted Leadership, LLC educates and guides leaders and teams. After working with us, leaders are equipped to address challenges with ease and creativity. Our proprietary Architecture of Inspiring Leaders model gives leaders a platform from which to grow. Consisting of 13 key skills, the model covers vital aspects of leadership. More information can be found at www.craftedleadership.com

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