Help People Assume Responsibility to Inspire Higher Performance

June 29, 2010 by  Filed under: Management 

Remember the axiom: Assuming responsibility means making a choice. Given the truth of that statement, what can you do to help other people assume responsibility for their behaviors? You can’t tell them to change. You can’t dictate to them to accept responsibility. If you desire a more profound echelon of change to transpire, you will need more diverse types of communication.

What could it be?

When John F. Kennedy famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” he was honoring the fact that people have the freedom to choose. His question was the ultimate question: “What should you do for your country?” His question was heartfelt, and it contained no preordained answer. But he was accomplishing what all distinguished leaders do: He was asking the right questions.

To help people change, you need to ask the right questions. Not questions that masquerade as your own opinions, but powerful questions that evoke genuine reflection. For example, imagine for a moment that you’re coaching a man who treats other people disrespectfully, someone like John in the story related earlier in this chapter. Which important query might aid him in accepting responsibility for his conduct?

Asking powerful questions is not natural. It is not something we have been prepared to do. Our society has taught us to express ourselves–to articulate ideas and to illustrate our opinions–without pausing to ask identify important problems. Yet the fact is, the art of getting people to change boils down to asking the right questions. It means asking enough of the right kinds of questions so that people will say: “Honestly, I am the one responsible for this situation, not someone else.”

People are naturally prone to thinking that everything they’re doing is okay (it’s the other people who are screwing up). It takes trust and humility and self-reflection to quash the assumption of competence and admit that the change truly starts with us. Reflect for a moment on what this implies. If real change entails asking people powerful questions, how can you create the forums in which other people can feel trust and be self-reflective? How do you create the conditions for real change to occur? How do you begin asking formidable questions?

To change the culture of your organization (and move at light speed) everyone must be on the same page. Help people in your organization assume responsibility by purchasing bulk copies of Leading at Light Speed, a must-read leadership book revealing 10 quantum leaps to build trust, spark innovation, and create a high-performing organization.

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