Management and Leadership in Nonprofits


I Am (Not) Responsible

Mar 09, 2016


Today's topic is responsibility. Yes, the “R” word. You know it. You may have even felt it. So here's my question:  Do you live it?

Merriam Webster provides the following simple definitions for responsible:

  • Having the job or duty of dealing with or taking care of something or someone
  • Able to be trusted to do what is right or to do the things that are expected or required
  • Involving important duties, decisions, etc., that you are trusted to do

If I choose to believe this definition, responsibility means taking charge of one’s own actions and, most important, being ready to deal with the consequences of those actions, whether those consequences are the intended ones or not.

Responsibility is a word that is often rolled out when change is happening. Think about the change processes you've been a part of and the first question people ask when the consequences are less than the positive results hoped for: Who is responsible for that? Then our brain immediately says, "Not me," quickly followed by, "Must be Sally." This is where responsibility makes a magical metamorphosis.

Yep, responsibility now becomes the “S” word: scapegoating. We somehow completely miss our own role in being responsible and move on to create the story of how someone else clearly messed that up. Let's face it, scapegoating is often a pretty safe move, deflecting attention away from you and allowing you to run for cover. And you can sound pretty righteous when you do it.

There is an alternative, though. When change is happening, let's be clear on who is responsible. You know who it is. Got it yet? It's not Sally. It is everyone in the organization. Yep, that's right. We all share responsibility for the consequences of change. Those who choose to try and make it work as well those who choose to actively or passively work against it.

When organizations recognize that everyone is responsible, scapegoating is no longer possible. Responsible can now be a positive that works toward improving the organization. 

What do you think? Is this how responsibility works?

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Wipfli Editorial Team

Management and Leadership in Nonprofits blog
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