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by Susan Basterfield

This is a truly unique time in history to be talking about radical responsibility. In traditional organizations or traditional hierarchies, one of the reasons for having structures or justifying structures like that is that the person that sits on top of that pyramid is held responsible and accountable for everything that happens in the organization. Today, we see an individual who has for the last 4 years sat on top of one of the most intricate, complex, largest pyramids on planet refusing to take responsibility for anything that does not make him look good.  The outgoing president has also created a reality where a person doesn’t even need to tell the truth let alone take responsibility for their actions. It feels a bit ironic that the example that we see is likely the most visible on the planet. I worked for almost a quarter of a century in traditional organization’s and I can’t think of a time during that period where the leader refused to take accountability and responsibility – let alone at the scale that we see it today. It’s impossible to talk about the Radical responsibility chapter in Lead Together without presencing this phenomenon.

Now that we’ve done this (!) let’s talk about radical responsibility in teams and organizations that are striving for less hierarchy. One of the most commonly articulated pitfalls of self- management or self-organizing is that when everybody is responsible no one’s responsible – and that couldn’t be further from the truth. What leading together asks of us is not easy and it’s not trivial. It asks us to use our agency not only to make commitments, but to keep commitments and further to that enter into an agreement or a social contract with our colleagues that Invites them to hold us to account. I know that the sounds easy, but it takes practice. What I’ve heard and seen and learnt from the many organization’s that we researched and worked with is that the most difficult element of radical responsibility is actually holding your colleagues to account.

We are all very familiar with and used to a system where a boss tells us what to do and how to do it, and even to make very clear the criteria of success and exactly what it is that we need to deliver. The contract that we enter into when we are working in these types of organizations is clear but it doesn’t require of us necessarily to make and keep commitments – all it requires of us is to do what we are told or get fired.  Without going too far down the rabbit hole, the common system of a boss telling the worker what to do also often leads to a state of learnt helplessness where me as the worker just waits to be told what to do because that is the only thing in the process of the organization that has clarity.

There something uniquely transformational about being able to say “I’m Susan I’m accountable for writing this blog post –  I want to be held to account by being reminded that I need to write this blog post and I want that to be done by email and by a text message. If continue not to meet my commitment, the expectation is that this is brought to the entire team and collectively we decide the way forward”. My commitment then becomes a partnership where I am working with my team to practice radical responsibility.

As with many of the ideas in Lead Together it starts with being clear and being committed to being on this journey of radical responsibility together for it is truly a team sport.

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