How Being Less Responsible Can Grow Responsibility in Others

January 21, 2023
6:50 pm

By Gavin Adams 

Could your strong sense of responsibility increase your team’s irresponsibility?

If you’re a leader, I suspect you possess a strong sense of responsibility. Taking on a leadership role or receiving a leadership promotion would only be possible if you were persistently responsible.

I love working with people with a high sense of responsibility. Responsible people see problems as opportunities, push for solutions, and own setbacks without making excuses.

The higher up an organization you look, the more responsibility you typically find.

So, if taking responsibility is an element of successful leadership, giving responsibility is a leadership development opportunity.

Ironically, What I Often See Are Overly Responsible Leaders.

Because leaders are typically very responsible, they tend to act responsibly. When a problem needs to be solved, a decision needs to be made, or a system needs to be implemented, the responsible leader jumps right in. It’s just natural.

But consider this: If you always step in to take care of problems, your team will let you. Worse, they’ll eventually expect you to take on all the responsibility. I hate to say it, but you can be too responsible. That sounds like an oxymoron, but I see it all the time. If you take on all the responsibility, your team won’t fight you for it, and you will grow increasingly frustrated with your staff.

Specifically, if you constantly hog all the responsibility, you will:

  1. Become frustrated by what you perceive as staff laziness.
  2. Stagnate the leadership development of your staff.
  3. Lose your best leaders.

It may be time for you to be more responsible with how you take responsibility.

Managing your sense of responsibility is a classic tension to manage.

Here are 4 strategies to spread the burden of responsibility.

1. Delegate More Than You Do.

I’ve written several posts on delegation systems, so I will keep this short.

Please read the posts linked above if you need help with effective delegation. As you do, consider how much you’re currently delegating versus doing. No leader is skilled enough to be the best at everything. However, the people on your team have diverse skill sets that can and should be utilized responsibly.

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2. Stop Solving (or Even Speaking Into) Every Problem.

Most leaders condition their direct reports to bring problems to them. There are several reasons this practice is common. Most people would rather ask for permission than forgiveness, so if a leader willingly solves all the problems, the staff will allow them to.

Worse, your staff will expect you to solve all the problems and grow more fearful of trying themselves. It’s healthy to allow your team members to solve problems independently. When a staff member brings you a problem, try only to ask, “What would you suggest we do?” Then get out of their way so they can do it. Or try to do it.

3. Share More Information.

Information is power. Insecure leaders tend to hoard information to protect their power. But that’s not you. Perhaps you keep information from your team so as not to overwhelm them. Or not create sideways energy for them. But this isn’t helping them.

Information is power, and information is powerful. Information induces responsibility. This is why, when you receive information, you feel pressured to do something. This is also how your team will feel if you are willing to share information.

What kind of information should you share? Well, how about all of it? You can’t share private or donor information, but most data and information associated with issues or problems aren’t personal. Don’t hoard it; share it.

4. Stick to Your Strengths.

You are uniquely gifted to own responsibility for some issues or needs in your organization. Still, we are not talented enough to solve every organizational problem alone. The better you know your strengths, the better you’ll step in where you’re most needed, and the better you’ll allow others to take responsibility where you’re not as necessary.


One of your primary leadership responsibilities is the leadership development of others. When we consider leadership development, we think about programs and systems. We rarely think of how our overly responsible behavior might foster irresponsibility in others.

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The Apostle Paul mentions the armor of God in Ephesians chapter 6 and the command or necessity to “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:10-11). We will certainly need this armor because “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.



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