Jennifer Wilson

Six Benefits of Taking Personal Responsibility

Smart leaders own their decisions, actions, words and the outcomes — good and bad — and reap the benefits of taking responsibility.

March 26, 2012
by Jennifer Wilson

We see it happen all too often. Employees have not met expectations and, when addressed give many reasons for failure, including:

 “I didn’t know what was expected.”
“Other people aren’t doing it either.”
“I’m not being set up for success.”
“You have unrealistic expectations.”
“This wasn’t expected of me at the last place I worked.”

Firm leaders do this, too. When they make poor decisions, they say:

“I had faulty information.”
“The partners voted for it, too.”
“I am doing the best I can with the little time I have.”
“Our competitors have made similar mistakes.”

When they fail to deliver on commitments, these same leaders may blame members of their team or say that the commitment was unrealistic to begin with. I want to encourage you to leave reasons, excuses, blame, minimizing and other deflection behaviors behind. And I want to urge you to take advantage of the transformative benefits you’ll gain when you take personal and complete responsibility.

When you take responsibility for your decisions, actions, words and the outcomes that result – good and bad — there are at least six significant benefits you’ll gain. You will be:

  • Different. Sadly, most people avoid taking responsibility for negative outcomes whenever possible. When you choose to say, “I own this mistake,” or “I made a poor decision” or any other statement of personal responsibility, superiors, subordinates and clients will take notice because it happens so rarely.
  • Coachable. Powerful leaders are willing to invest in those they feel are coachable. You’ll demonstrate “coachability” when you admit that you don’t know something, need to improve and are willing to listen and learn. When you take responsibility for your performance and admit that you can improve (and we can all always get better!), then you open yourself up to coaching and support from others.
  • Trusted. When people notice that you’ve taken personal responsibility, they will experience a positive feeling about you. That feeling is the beginning of trust because taking responsibility for a mistake or a poor result illustratesa degree of honesty that others truly respect. And, when those who may have contributed to the poor result realize that you aren’t going to throw them under the bus to save yourself, they’ll admire your dignity and courage. Honesty, respect, dignity, courage and trust … sounds like a leader, doesn’t it?
  • Growing and changing. People who take personal responsibility usually follow the statement “I own this mistake” with “and here’s what I could do differently next time.” And, if you don’t know what you can do differently initially, undertake research, ask those with more experience and evaluate other options to gain information, see another perspective or generate new ideas that lead to better performance and to your personal growth.
  • More powerful. Most of us fear taking responsibility, admitting shortcomings or asking for help because we fear that it will open us up to criticism, politics and risk. While it is true that some may take advantage of your vulnerability and “kick you when you’re down,” this is the exception. Instead, taking responsibility for our actions can be very empowering. Doing so enables us to leave behind the effort that denial or deflection takes and to focus that energy instead on new behaviors that will produce a successful outcome in the future. When you take responsibility, all of the power to improve and succeed lies with you. When you blame others, you have no power to change future circumstances because you allow yourself to believe that “other people” have to change for things to improve.
  • Followed. Great leaders model expected behaviors. When a leader admits fallibility, their teammates realize that it’s acceptable to do so and that when you do, the world (or your career) doesn’t come to an end. When you take personal responsibility for your actions and outcomes, you will make it culturally acceptable to do so and establish a pattern that others are likely to follow.

In life and work, you cannot control the decisions, actions, words or outcomes of others, but you can take 100% responsibility for your own. Some tips for doing so:

  • When something goes wrong, ask, “What could I have done differently?” before you ask, “Whose fault is this?”
  • Take immediate responsibility when things you own or are assigned are off track. Acknowledge it as soon as possible and commit to make changes to bring things back into alignment.
  • Regularly assess yourself, your performance and your knowledge and establish short-term and long-term goals to continually improve. If you’re really brave, ask your superiors, subordinates and clients what they would like to see you improve or do next.


As business author Jim Rohn said,“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” Accrue the many benefits that stepping up and owning your performance — good and bad — will bring. Begin taking personal responsibility for your actions and outcomes today.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.