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Leadership and Shared Responsibility

Effective leadership isn't about giving or taking responsibility. It's about sharing it; leaders who understand the need for distributed responsibility are highly valued in organizations because it brings better results and greater employee satisfaction.

The word responsibility stems from the Latin respon, meaning respond or answer to. One way to demonstrate responsibility is by asking and answering questions which show reliability and trustworthiness. Leaders must ask questions to ensure employees demonstrate the same kind of reliable and trustworthy behaviour. Many leaders have one thing in common: they respond to more questions than they ask.

Albert Einstein said, "asking questions should not be about getting answers, but rather about solving problems." Leaders must resist the temptation to rush to an answer.

Here are ideas to distribute responsibility for the road ahead:

The choice of pronouns leaders uses signals who is taking responsibility because there is a clear distinction between "I/me" and "you," but using "we" is more likely to help people connect and commit to a shared purpose and shared responsibility.

Another way for leaders to demonstrate responsibility in this context is by resisting the temptation to provide answers to all questions received and instead inviting others to explore and answer some of the questions with them. Doing so will not create a gap between yourself and your employees. Using "we" will invite people to contribute and capture a higher response rate, inspiring new questions and conversations in contrast to "I," where questions often go unanswered and don't necessarily lead to a discussion.

We live in an environment of constant change. It may seem like micro changes in how leaders speak and act, but they can significantly affect how responsibility is perceived and practiced throughout an organization. Leaders must ensure the conversation doesn't end with them and the answers they provide if they want people to be accountable. In this way, people will develop solutions, and leaders must put their solutions on hold, even if they don't always come across as the most knowledgeable in the room. In addition, if leaders want their employees to help one another navigate the continuous change and uncertainty that organizations face, they must place shared responsibility above the need to take sole responsibility by setting themselves up as the ultimate authority.

In conclusion, leaders who genuinely want to help their employees learn something new and empower them to develop new solutions must understand that no questions equal no change for the road ahead.


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