Leading Ideas: Acknowledge Your Responsibility

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” — Voltaire (1694-1778) French Enlightenment writer

The first question I often ask leaders who are facing tough issues is, “How did you contribute to them?” I push them to reflect on this question because if they can’t acknowledege their hand in creating the current situation they won’t be able to affect change going forward. A majority of the time the culprit is what they DIDN’T do. Perhaps they didn’t raise questions early enough. Or they didn’t support the effort effectively. I encourage them to share these insights with their team. “One of the most powerful ways to get others to take responsibility for their actions,” I always tell them, “is take responsibility for yours.”


Consider this:

When something’s not working, it’s uncomfortable to consider your role in creating the problem. It’s easier to look elsewhere for a scapegoat – perhaps another person, another team, or an outside influence. You may even have a good case – other people or circumstances may be large part of the problem. However, they’re rarely the whole story. When a system breaks down, everyone in it is somehow complicit.

Try this:

1. As tough issues arise, review them with your team.
2. Starting with yourself, have everyone acknowledge what they’ve done well and what they haven’t (ask them to prepare this in advance).
3. Be supportive of everyone’s honesty (have individual conversations offline afterwards if needed).
4. Brainstorm processes that the team wants to put into place to prevent the issues from arising again.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice – this process isn’t easy, but it’s at the heart of change.

Question – What processes do you use to ensure people in your organization acknowledge responsibility?

Doug Sundheim • Executive Coach • New York, NY • •