Contributed by Caterina Viterale
Reframing responsibility to help organisations, teams and individuals be better humans
Until recently, I have had a tug-of-war like relationship with the idea of responsibility for as long as I can remember. This recent shift felt like I was handed a key to a new understanding that nested in my mind and then expanded to create a form of internal freedom.
As if handed down by the magical powers that be directly into my awareness, I was offered a unique and transformative way to reshape how I look at, and understand, responsibility beyond what I had thought previously, which was always associated with a role, title or position.
I now consider this a framework, a concept, a potential mapping of sorts, for how we can navigate ourselves and each other through the terrain of modern living and all of its complexities, and in this article I will be sharing it with you.
So, grab yourself a glass of your favourite beverage, sit back and let’s go on a little meditative and contemplative ride of curiosity and wonder together about how we can potentially reshape how, and what, we think when it comes to responsibility.
Responsibility, for a very significant amount of my 32 years of life, has been an extremely heavy, yet liberating, topic and experience for me. On a personal level, it’s been extremely burdening. On a professional level, I have always thrived with some form of weight on my shoulders – a team to manage, a goal to hit, something to organise, pieces to put together.
Recognising why I have these two experiences of the same topic was something I really struggled to understand and master.
Why was I exceptional at managing a team, being a good leader, and exceeding professional goals, but I could barely manage my personal life?
Why was it different?
I couldn’t figure it out because the weight of my personal responsibility was too heavy for me to be able to look up, look around, and see things differently.
Then, one day, a few months ago whilst meditating, an entirely new way of looking at responsibility came to and through me, right when I was no longer looking to understand it.
And this is what I will share with you.
The New Understanding
“The application of one’s ability to provide an appropriate response to any moment or situation, whereby one has, or is perceived to have, something that is of benefit to someone or something, including themselves”.
Let’s highlight the many important, and specific, elements to provide us with the guidelines for putting this into practice, and break down this new way of thinking about response-ability.
Application: because the rest of the definition becomes completely useless if we do not APPLY it. Simples.
Ability: ability for humans is never one dimensional. It is both within and between the elements of physical, emotional and mental that we may or may not actually be able to do something.
I may know you have the intellectual capacity to fulfil a task based on past experience, but not know that you’re physically unable to do so in this moment because you’re exhausted from lack of sleep as your new born child is unwell. Or because you’ve started seeing a therapist about that childhood trauma no one knows about and it’s emotionally and physically exhausting you.
We may have assumptions about someone (colleague, friend, partner, parent, employee, neighbour, person at the checkout) with regards to their ability to fulfil a task, without considering the infinite number of factors that contribute to one’s ability to do so, even if it appears, they are, in fact, able to do so on face value.
This is where the co-founder of the Flow Genome Project Jamie Wheal’s ‘Playground Rules’ provides a handy rule to live by:
#2 “Benefit of the Doubt (Everyone's Doing Their Best!)”
Appropriate: This is about emphasising whether or not we have consciously assessed the situation and considered the response we are about to make is, in fact, as appropriate as we can assess it to be.
This requires a certain level of mental development and complexity - specifically the utilisation of a particular mental faculty, ‘perspective’.
How many perspectives outside of our own have we considered in our analysis of an appropriate response?
What internal space is this analysis coming from?
Are we angry, tired, hungry (or hangry), overly excited, focused on one perspective?
Does it feel rather cerebral, meaning, are we just thinking about it intellectually, or are we allowing for things such as empathy and compassion to enter our consideration of what’s appropriate?
The findings of our internal investigation provide important reflections and considerations for how we may expand what we consider appropriate.
Response: without getting into technicalities of dictionary meanings, I feel the significance of response is that, in embodied practice, it is very grounded. It is clear, open, attentive. It is a state of assessing as much available information as possible whilst knowing that even in this state we are unable to know absolutely everything. Thus, remaining open to the information we receive as a unique opportunity to add to our knowledge base.
I want to emphasise also what it is not, and more specifically what it isn’t in comparison to a reaction.
Typically, when using ‘reaction’ in conversation, there is an assumption that the reaction was a direct and immutable outcome as a result of a specific cause that is often emotionally explosive; it’s automated and without control or influence.
This is definitely not what I feel a response to be.
Response seeks to find the causation(s) of the present moment, assesses it in as many ways as it seems appropriate that is the most expansive and inclusive, then consciously CHOOSES an outcome.
A moment or situation: this brings the mind’s attention, and the practical application of this response-ability principle, to the here and now (whatever present moment we find ourselves in).
Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not in five minutes time, nor the previous encounters with this person/s in the environment we are in.
It’s the here and now, which requires a specific state of mind that has the ability to absorb it for what it is, and not what it has been previously or what we anticipate it to be.
Has, or is perceived to have: sometimes we know what we have, and sometimes we need others to provide the information to bring it to our attention.
This is particularly useful in times when we forget that we have a skill, resource or piece of information that is so automatic in our existence that we forget we have it.
Take speaking our native language as an example.
Most people use it so frequently and have become so acquainted with its existence and use that they forget that it is, in fact, a skill that could be used to help others – a foreigner, a blind person who is unable to read/see something, or even as a means to voice an injustice/issue that requires attention.
Something: it’s important to remember that something isn’t always an object – it can be an idea, a word, a resource, and in fact, something can even be a nothing. The thing that you may be able to provide as an appropriate response is, well, absolutely nothing (silence, for example, when listening to someone share their story).
Benefit: most often, we are used to considering benefit as strictly on the positive side of the negative to positive spectrum. It is important to note, however, that benefit may also include an outcome where there is a reduction in the negative, thus, moving the indicator within the spectrum closer to the positive side and away from the extreme negative side.
Someone, or something: we live on a planet, that doesn’t just have people. It has objects, other living organisms, constructs, ideas, beliefs, houses and e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g else that exists outside of our present here and now. Therefore, it isn’t just about responding to people within a moment or situation, it is also guiding us towards paying attention to, and considering the benefit of, e-v-e-r-y single thing that exists.
Including ourselves: well, because, most of us just don’t think of ourselves, especially when it comes to responsibility! It’s often housed in the environment of others – our roles and duties to others and things outside of ourselves. This can create an array of negative consequences. From illness, to stress, to poor health, poor sleep, no money, poor relationships, minimal joy, and everything else that you can think of when you take a moment to reflect on all the ways you’ve neglected yourself – your body, your wants and needs, your desires, your feelings and emotions, your experiences.
Now that we’ve delved a bit deeper into the elements of this alternative perspective of response-ability, let’s ask a really important question.
Why is this even important?
If we consider many of the issues we face globally, much of it stems from a lack of response-ability.
“How many times have I seen someone (including myself) dismiss an idea or action - a response – when something clearly needed to be done?”
For example, a task at work that wasn’t part of your “job title/duties” so you ignored it; a conversation you avoided having about something that needed addressing but was put off and the issue became far greater than it needed to be.
The list goes on.
And when we collectively leave a large amount of small things unchecked or ignored, they build to HUGE mountains of things that suddenly seem too overwhelming.
I mean, just take a look at the news over the last year, where do we begin?
More deeply, if we consider the global social, economical, political and environmental landscape, a significant portion of it involves us needing to pick up the pieces of other people’s lack of response-ability - we are constantly having to utilise our time, energy and resources rectifying the consequences of others behaviour, decisions and actions, as opposed to showing up in the world and living a life that is full of richness and the freedom to create playfully.
We are devoting the one resource that we have always known to be finite and irreversible in the physical plane – time – to resolving issues as a result of a lack of response-ability of our fellow humans in the past, instead of basking in the playfulness of existence itself.
And, sometimes there’s no stronger blockage than a perception of finite time that limits our ability to be conscious and aware in our actions.
This is an important segue into an often ignored, yet extremely influential element that can dramatically impact one’s ability to practice response-ability.
Burdened people burden people.
Photo by Ben White
We’ve all heard the common phrase: ‘hurt people hurt people’, but when do we consider the reality that often, burdened people burden people?
Think about the Manager who is overworked, stressed out, and feeling overwhelmed by the disproportionate ratio of their skills to the tasks required of them by those above (and sometimes, below) and so unfairly demands more from those they manage and increases their workload?
The single parent, working their asses off (or are unable to), struggling to overcome a past trauma and so demands more from their child, intentionally or unintentionally?
The person in a position of power who is burdened by a personal situation, who comes to work carrying that weight into a decision-making process, and then chooses the less personally consequential option that has an increased workload on others, as opposed to the harder, but more appropriate, option?
What happens in all of these situations?
The person burdened, begins to unwittingly burden those around them.
Whether by having to take on tasks, or holding space for them to react to their stresses (as opposed to processing their emotions in a healthy manner), the weight gets distributed to others who are already carrying the burden of the people and environments they’ve previously been in.
And so the burdened becomes the burdener.
When we’re burdened, we cannot perform optimally, and at our best; we cannot give to ourselves, each other and the here and now moment we find ourselves in. Essentially, we cannot be response-able.
So, what can we do?
2. Remember that during times of emotional, physical and/or mental internal imbalance, people are not at their best, and therefore, we need to recognise the inability of the other person to provide what we believe to be an appropriate response.
A potential tool for these moments would be to become curious and ask the person we are about to request something from, “what is your current energetic, emotional, and physical capacity?”
We could even go so far as to ask them to rate their levels out of 10 or 100, and if used in a team environment, whoever has the highest score may be able to take the reins for a moment to allow others to regain their equilibrium.
3. Use the description of ‘response-ability’ as a principle to live by, outside of roles, duties, status and labels – let’s perceive it as a guiding principle.
Here are nine ideas I invite you to consider to help make the shift from responsibility to response-ability a little more easier collectively.
1. It’s a paradox that we must develop in to
We must both let go of, and embrace, the past and future in helping us navigate the now.
In the context of providing an appropriate response, we must clear ourselves of the past conditioning and future assumptions that blind us to providing an appropriate response, whilst also utilising past knowledge and holding future ideas and plans to help us navigate the situation to the most appropriate and beneficial outcome.
This can be challenging for some, as it requires a high level of mental complexity that many of us are not yet capable of, or are still developing into.
Therefore, we must consider this a journey towards response-ability mastery on both an individual and collective level due to the navigation towards, and transformation to, living this as a guiding principle.
Developing self awareness through mindfulness practices such as meditation can assist us in the optimisation of processing throughout the here and now and maximise the ease at which we can practice this principle fully.
2. We’re all going to be students, and teachers
No one is a master at this, nor will they be. Every moment we are growing, evolving and changing, as is everything else that exists, and therefore, there will always be more to learn, to adapt to and to consider.
What’s that playground rule again we need to follow?
“Benefit of the Doubt (Everyone's Doing Their Best!)”
3. It’s never going to be 100%
There’s ALWAYS going to be some form of “problem”. This perspective isn’t about solving and eradicating all of the tension in the world, it’s about limiting the amount of unnecessary realities we’re creating that require subsequent solutions - the burdened burdening others included.
We must ensure our thinking going forward is built upon a foundation of knowing there is no final and complete utopian destination.
4. Try to refrain from worrying about over there, focus on your here
Until your ‘here’ is functioning optimally and beneficially, refrain from utilising your valuable energy, time and resources on the “over there” situations – trust that they are being dealt with by those there, experiencing their own here and now within it and utilising these same principles.
Make sure your house is in check first, then go out and help others optimise theirs.
5. There’s no reason not to play and have fun
This piece was written deliberately with a hint of playfulness to provide a glimpse of the light-heartedness that we can bring to the spaces we occupy.
It may feel as though we have a big job to do – personally, professionally or collectively as a human race - but if we bring an element of play and child-like wonder, we can get the job done in a much faster and cohesive manner.
Maybe we can start asking ourselves “how can I make this a more enjoyable process?”
6. Trust ourselves, each other and the bigger picture – all of which we know very little about
The greatest of minds have always proclaimed that the more they know, the more they know not.
Let’s take that piece of advice on face value and act accordingly.
7. We have a choice
Response-ability is a tool we can use to help us CREATE the world we want to live in – it gives us agency, sovereignty and conscious engagement, and not simply be a passer-by in this great adventure that is life as a human on this planet.
Let’s CHOOSE to be the person/s we want to see in the world.
8. Not everyone is as keen as you are
When we think something is important, we forget, or simply fail to consider, that whilst we are having an experience right now of something having our focused attention, so too are the people around us who we are interacting with.
We must remember that no matter how important or significant we feel and believe, or even know, a thing that is requiring our attention is, we must accept and forgive those who cannot give us the energy, focus and attention we may want or need.
9. Response-ability is always a 100% game
If you are conscious, and in a body that is able to move with conscious engagement, then you are 100% responsible for your response-ability - remember, existence equals responsibility.
No situation is about breaking down who contributed what percentage of 100% of the outcome.
It’s about taking personal accountability for our own actions, choices, and behaviours (including what we do not do), and recognising that we are 100% responsible for the contribution we made in any given moment.
We shift our focus and analysis from “they did A, B and C!” (usually blame) to “what did I do here?” (self empowerment and mastery).
The more I think about this, the more I feel there’s so much to say, develop and find clarity on how the actual practical application of such a framework fits across our lived experiences.
Though, essentially, I think it can be summed up by being more considerate of others and the environments we find ourselves in, and shifting our focus and attention from other people’s choices, actions and behaviours to our own.
If we at least start from there, I trust the magnificence of who we are on a fundamental level - kindness, compassion, openness, curiosity, playfulness, joyfulness - will help us find our way.
Reigniting Human Commerce with Visionary Leadership
To my continually learning mind, I always thought commerce was a business term that related to an intent of making a profit. I had not come across an older meaning, which I might add, I love, where commerce once related to the social dealings between people.
Imagine, if you will for a brief moment, a business that focused equally on making a profit and improving the interactions between humans.
Over the last few weeks, I have been delving into a few different business models and research articles, chatting with senior leaders and heck, I even chatted all things leadership on Clubhouse to better understand how we can create more warmth and understanding in our human interactions both at work and socially, and whether organisations actually invest in improving their Human Commerce. Sadly, I have found only a handful of socially responsible organisations channelling their L&D funding into creating better humans within their workforce while also investing in technical and on the job skills.
If philosophers have been telling us for centuries that the ultimate goal of existence is to achieve our highest good, for our values to be met and priorities to be achieved, then we can’t deny that we need a supportive social system to help us in our personal pursuit of happiness.
Everything about our existence nowadays relies heavily on human interactions, from the parcels being delivered from amazon, to the checkout assistant at the supermarket and the person in a foreign country doing their best to solve our problems over the phone. Interactions with friends, colleagues and family also get added into the mix. We can’t deny that our happiness is entangled with, and relies on, Human Commerce. Each of us, regardless of our assigned roles at home or work, needs to take responsibility for becoming better within ourselves in order to support others in an effort to improve the warmth of human interactions and to increase our collective happiness quotient.
How can you contribute to our collective happiness quotient?
The answer is simple, aspire to become a Visionary Leader.
Most of the population either works for a business or owns a business. It seems strange to say that happiness and business have anything to do with each other since for most people work can be soul destroying. Yet research is showing us that the two are linked business can enhance human wellbeing!
In July 2019 during her TED talk, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland displayed Visionary Leadership and discussed the importance of creating an environment that allows everyone to thrive. She said:
“What we choose to measure as a country matters. It really matters, because it drives political focus, it drives public activity…. GDP measures the output of all of our work, but it says nothing about the nature of that work, about whether that work is worthwhile or fulfilling.”
She goes on to say that:
“Economic growth matters -- it is important -- but it is not all that is important. And growth in GDP should not be pursued at any or all cost… the objective of economic policy should be collective well-being: how happy and healthy a population is, not just how wealthy a population is…. when we focus on well-being, we start a conversation that provokes profound and fundamental questions. What really matters to us in our lives? What do we value in the communities we live in? What kind of country, what kind of society, do we really want to be?”
It is refreshing to hear world leaders speak of balancing Human Commerce with gross domestic product, and I hope that one day it is reality. In the short term, perhaps we need to look to businesses, not to governments, to effectively kick-start the wellbeing movement by balancing profit and people and contributing to the wellbeing and welfare of its workforce and community.
By helping their employees grow and delighting their customers with innovative and meaningful products, businesses have an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the world. This type of approach (if adopted) would also have a positive effect on the business as the community reciprocates support. The aim of a visionary leader would be to nurture and create more visionary leaders. Creating a movement of people who know how to infuse soul, in the form of emotional and intellectual energy, into their organisation and community.
How do you become a Visionary Leader?
1. Have a Vision that is Greater than You.
Designing a vision that is beyond yourself creates opportunity and challenge for you and the people you lead to do their best. All of the studies that I have researched investigating Flow states, show that it is experienced predominantly at work, in contrast to the belief that it show up in our free time. This rich experience often occurs at times that involve moments of crisis or when a person is stretched beyond their known limits or challenged to be creative in the pursuit of a meaningful vision. These moments of deep Flow, caused by the right amount of challenge, infuse soul into a person’s work - they end up transformed through their efforts and become someone more complex than they had been before. This is usually good for the individual and the business. Think about how much time you spend either at work or working on tasks for work at home. It’s a lot of your time! If you are part of a business that doesn’t enable you to grow as a person, to grow in self-knowledge and wisdom and build your ability to relate to others, the business is not doing you (Human Commerce) or their bottom line (Business Commerce) any favours. What we need are more workplaces where people can learn more about themselves through the pursuit of a worthy vision and integrate the knowledge to promote self-awareness and increase their mental complexity.
2. Build Trust
Having a vision for your team, family or organisation to move towards can be an incredible motivator, however, a vision on its own won’t build sustainable Human Commerce. The most important principle of Human Commerce is trust. No one will buy into your vision if they don’t trust you or each other.
When working towards a common goal, a Visionary Leader can build trust through motivating people by combining the Individuals Interests and the Common Interest of the group while also embodying the four trust building leadership traits; Credibility, Reliability, Empathy and Low Self-Orientation.
A Leader can usually improve an Individuals interests with external incentives such as pay increases, promotion or a fancy job title. However common interest is earned through a demonstration of respect for the value of each person. Most team members won’t be of service to a leader’s vision unless the rules are fair, their contribution is recognised, and their integrity is respected.
When a Leader cuts corners, shows favouritism, is unfair, doesn’t do what they say they will do or is thoughtless, they undermine the common interest of the group and trust diminishes. When this happens on a regular basis, the only thing keeping the vision alive will be external incentives. Which, unfortunately, over time will have a detrimental effect on the business in the form of low morale and less profit as more extrinsic incentives are needed to keep people performing their job.
A Visionary Leader can build trust by investing their mental energy into monitoring and enhancing the wellbeing of everyone. More importantly, to build credibility, reliability, empathy and to balance their focus between their personal needs and the needs of the collective. they must develop self-discipline based on self-knowledge.
3. Develop Self-Discipline and Self-knowledge.
“The only journey is the one within”.
We all know that nothing is ‘free’ in the material economy, similarly nothing comes free in your psychic economy either. If you are not willing to invest energy in understanding your mind and body (your internal reality) and end up wasting time and money chasing external rewards, you lose the ability to master your life and end up a puppet of circumstances.
Getting to know yourself as a leader must involve questioning which of your values and beliefs are fundamental and support your vision and which ones have no substance or have been acquired by accident and no longer serve you or your vision. Knowing how to think is far more valuable in this day and age than knowing what to think. A cutting-edge way to gain self-knowledge is to make accessing Flow an integral part of your life.
4. Create an Environment that Allows People to Thrive
In his book “Good Business” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests there are two pillars of happiness and the fulfilment of potential. The first pillar is ‘differentiation’ this involves realising that you are unique and responsible for your well-being and are willing to develop your uniqueness wherever it leads, enjoying the expression of our being in action. The second pillar involves ‘integration’ this is realising that even though we are unique, we are also enmeshed in networks of relationships with other humans, culture, and with the surrounding natural and man-made environment.
A person who is fully differentiated and integrated develops high levels of mental complexity and is more likely to lead a happy, vital and meaningful life. They are also known to contribute positively to their work and improve Human Commerce. They are, as Abraham Maslow describes ‘Self-actualised humans’, and they are happy knowing they can continue to activate their potential. A Visionary Leader ensures they develop every team member, regardless of job title, to reach this level of awareness.
To do this a Visionary Leader purposely creates an environment that allows people to;
Conventional Leadership Be Gone!
So, what if nothing changes? What if businesses and their Leaders continue to tip the scale in favour of making a profit over the increasing need to balance profit with Human Commerce?
In my role at Blue Chip Minds, I see first-hand the effects on business and their workforce when conventional thinking and leading is the norm. People are either overworked, burnt-out, feeling devalued, or not encouraged to perform at their best. They are often treated as cogs in the process of production which ends up diminishing them as humans.
It appears that focusing on profit and developing the technical skills to make greater profits, is doing more harm than good. Participants of our programs often share stories of Leaders they don’t trust, toxic work environments, feeling undervalued and not heard. Most express deep appreciation to us for creating the right circumstances for them to integrate knowledge within themselves and help them to gain clarity on how they can be a better human personally and professionally.
What We Can Do – Together!
Instead of ignoring the complexity of humans, businesses and leaders can embrace our need for love and growth and help motivate workers to pursue common goals by having an appealing vision, establishing trust, encouraging individual growth and to stop depriving workers of the joy that comes naturally from doing their best.
If you are an individual in an organisation, I invite you to take full responsibility for creating your happiness. If your workplace or manager doesn’t give you clear goals, create your own. If you are not provided with immediate feedback in relation to your performance so that you can adapt, ask for feedback outside your annual or six-monthly review. If your work is not challenging you to grow, find a way to dial up the challenge of your role.
We all have an incredible opportunity to help create a better future for each other and to shape workplaces that are as exciting as a sports match final and as soulful as a spiritual retreat. Where Human Commerce and business profit both share equal space on meeting agendas and in business expenditure.
When the well-being of a workforce is at the heart of every business decision, it creates a better, healthier, fairer and happier organisation, and the business role models how society can find happiness together in a disconnected world.
If you are looking for ways to develop Visionary Leaders, a responsible workforce, or invest in yourself, our most popular professional and personal development programmes include:
Our Contributors are a mix of passionate and switched on Humans ready to share their, career, business, well-being, leadership and performance insights with you so you can be the architect of your own extraordinary future!