🫣 Why Your People Don't Take Responsibility

This is one of the most common themes I encounter in leadership coaching: How can I get my people to take more responsibility?

The significance is clear: when someone takes on full responsibility, there is no blame, things get done faster, I can always rely on the other person, and so on.

Here is my hypothesis: most people like to take responsibility. It's just that it's constantly being taken away from them, even by their manager.

This is similar to motivation: Most people are motivated. They are just constantly demotivated by others, especially by their boss.

So the key question is: What are you doing to take responsibility away from your people without realizing it?

Here are three key behaviors you're teaching others to be irresponsible without noticing (and then I'll give you three tips on what to do instead):

  • Too many instructions. Rules, processes and instructions have their purpose. But at the same time, they reduce the sense of responsibility. Because it wasn't me who made this or that decision. It was the process or the instruction!
  • Knowing everything better. Every time you make the other person understand that you know something better or that you can contribute something to his or her work results ("Why don't you do this and that?"), you take responsibility away from the other person. After all, the idea came from you, not the other person.
  • Not listening. By not listening well, you are letting the other person know that what they are saying is not important. So the other person will automatically take less responsibility. After all, it's just not important.

Having brought these three often hidden causes for a lack of responsibility to the surface, here are three ideas on what you can do as a leader to actively increase the sense of responsibility among your people:

  1. Change your own attitude.

    How you view your people is critical to how much responsibility they want to take on. If your attitude is that you want to develop your people, then that includes helping them take on more responsibility.

    If, on the other hand, you see your people primarily as task fulfillers, then they may take responsibility for that, but not beyond it. I see that very frequently in companies.

    So: work on your attitude that it's good and important to help your people develop.

  2. Respond curiously to problems.

    If you react dismissively to problems ("Come up with solutions first!"), you often make it difficult for the other person to take responsibility for the problem.

    On the other hand, if you respond curiously ("Well, that's exciting!"), you make it easy for the other person to see the positive in the problem and consequently "own" it.

    The approach that people should not come to you with problems, but with solutions, has its justification, but can lead to people preferring not to take on the problem out of overwhelm, i.e. not taking responsibility. Pay attention to this effect!

  3. Ask questions instead of giving instructions.

    By asking open and "non-threatening" questions, you encourage the other person to think. The result: the person now takes responsibility for the problem and the solution.

    "What options would we have here?" or, "Who else could we ask about this?" are just two of many examples that make it easy for the other person to increase their sense of responsibility.

    Asking questions is fundamentally an extremely powerful leadership tool. The same is true here.

So, here you have three ideas on how to significantly increase the accountability of your people.

This is often not easy to implement because it involves changing habits of both thinking and behavior. ➔ Coaching offers highly effective support for this.


➡️ Next steps:

Whenever you're ready, check out my ➔ coaching programs and set up ➔ a 15min appointment here to get to know each other.




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