Part Two: Personal Responsibleness vs. Personal Responsibility
If you have been watching the news at night, as I have, you may have heard from some reporters and politicians, alike, the argument that our citizenry needs to take more responsibility and rely less on handouts from the government. Similarly, a few of my clients have complained to me about how their employees need to take more initiative. While the sources are very different, what they have to say has a lot in common. When you combine the need for initiative with that of responsibility you come up with personal responsibleness. Perhaps, personal responsibleness, which is in the dictionary, hasn’t typically been in use because it’s quite a mouthful. However, after repeating it several times, it begins to roll off your tongue.
What is personal responsibleness and how does it differ from responsibility?
Personal responsibility is something that we take, or is given to us. In contrast, personal responsibleness is a state of being. It describes a characteristic that engenders an inherent competence and trustworthiness dedicated to the maximum fulfillment of responsibilities.
Perhaps a simple example will help to illustrate the difference. A manager asks an employee to send an e-mail to notify a client of a meeting cancellation and to offer some new dates. The manager after several days hears nothing. The manager asks the employee for an update and the employee responds, “I sent them the e-mail, as you requested.” That’s an example of taking on a responsibility. Someone with Personal Responsibleness would have kept track of the e-mail request. If the client hasn’t received any word, the employee would take it upon themself to call the client to make sure the e-mail was received. Perhaps it went into the Trash folder or was blocked. After all, what’s important is not sending the e-mail but making sure the client receives the information and that a new date is established. That’s making sure the end result is achieved and a valuable difference is realized.
Through law and ritual, society can impose responsibilities on its citizens, but ultimately it’s those citizens who must discipline themselves and adopt personal responsibleness if laws are expected to be followed. Fulfilling responsibilities entails just doing specific things for others. With personal responsibleness, when individuals are given or assume a task, they look not only at how they can fulfill the responsibility but also, how they can use their energies and personal expertise to ensure the result and make a valuable difference.
Personal responibleness is a characteristic that defines one’s being. Hence, taking initiative, where one accepts the power or right to do something, falls right in line with the person who operates with personal responibleness. The reason is because the motto for those who operate with personal responsibleness is, “it’s up to me to make things happen … unless that is made impossible by circumstance beyond my control.”
If you are reading this blog while spell check is on, you may have noticed that spell check wants to delete the word “responsibleness” and regards it as non-existent. Well, as a manager or supervisor or someone with responsibilities, you must make it not only exist, you must make personal responsibleness a key part of your working vocabulary. So, in today’s times, in addition to giving people responsibilities, what’s needed if we want the best results is personal responsibleness. It’s time for this word to enter into our dialog because we want people to take initiative and we want people to look not only to themselves, but to family, community and place of work to strive to add value.
For a more in-depth look at Personal Responsibleness see Chapter Three of my book On the Edge and In Control.
Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).