The Real Value of Responsibility

Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value.
- Albert Einstein        
This is a text of my prepared speech, which I delivered in Shanghai Leadership Toastmasters Club in the 24th of July, 2013.

Responsibility is something we are born with and it will follow us all our life. To start with, we are all charged with two responsibilities we can never ignore: one is to improve ourselves and other is to strive for balance in life. Also we are responsible for what we take on in life. Whatever we set in motion, we are responsible for the scope and nature of the activity that comes up: cause and effect. Cause and effect is one of the laws of creation that no human can avoid. If we look at etymology of the word “responsibility” – it comes from ancient Greek with the meaning “set back in line”. Then used in Latin and consists from two parts: “re”, which means “back” and “spondere”, which means “pledge” and retains the sense of "obligation" in the Latin root of word. During XVII century “Be responsible” got meaning “to be accountable for one’s action”, “answerable” (to another, for something) and “reliable, trustworthy”.  
To conclude, the original meaning of the word “responsibility” is “promise in return”.

There are many contexts of using the word responsibility:
  • Moral responsibility to other people, animals, and the Earth. This means caring, defending, helping, building, protecting, preserving, and sustaining. We're accountable for treating other people rightly and honestly, and for being environmentally aware;
  • Legal responsibility to the laws and ordinances of our community and country. If there's a law we believe is outdated, discriminatory, or unfair, we can work to change, improve, or eliminate it. We can not simply decide to disobey it.
  • Personal responsibility. It's up to you to become a person of good character and be responsible for your life. Сaring adults around guide us, but only we can determine the kind of person we want ultimately become.

And today I would like to talk more about the real value of responsibility in three fields of our life: society, business and not politics, but leadership.

Although we are individuals, but live in the society. It is cool to say “I am independent”, but truth is I am not. I am interdependent. Every day we interact with people from different groups – company colleagues, friends, family and community members (Toastmasters). We answer on the calls, give some promises, get commitment. And if we keep our promises, if we follow what we say – we get honored: good open relationships with most of the people – friends, family, and community. When I promise to do something for you, I don’t give a value, but I take responsibility. And when I do, what I promised, I fulfill the responsibility and provide a value. If the value is good, you and I feel good. I satisfy my need to do good for my neighbor, and you satisfy your need to get something, to achieve your purpose. Both are happy. But sometimes we can’t keep all our promises due to several reasons. And other people get disappointed. The boss may ask: “Why you did not finish the project in time?”. We want to explain, but it sounds like an excuse, because value is not provided. Both are unhappy.
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Let’s consider responsibility and business. How many of you have heard about “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR)? It is when companies take care about social problems. Quite spread concept on the West and arising in China. Jack Ma, Alibaba and Taobao founder, announced that 0.3% of company revenue will go for dealing with environmental issue in China – air pollution. That provides a value for other people, society members. As a result, people are happy to live in better conditions – when kids got free computers in class-rooms from Samsung and can learn new knowledge & skills. Samsung is also happy, because parents appreciate such care, become more loyal to the company and more willing to buy product of this brand. For some companies, like ExxonMobil, to invest three billion US dollars in environmental projects in China in one year is not a limit. The company leaders understand all damages, which business brings to the nature and respond on it.
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And moving to the third aspect of the real value of responsibility, which is leadership. Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at our actions and decisions. Collin Powell, the US Secretary of States and four-star general, says in his Leadership Rules: “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off". As good leaders we need to achieve organization mission or goal. And for that good leaders should push team members out of their comfort zone. And normally people do not like it. But only in such way mission can be fulfilled, only in such way team members can grow up to the next level. Because humans are like children, they must grow into responsibility. And when we grow up – we feel better, because it is a progress, and happier. That is a promise, which a good leader has to take back.  

To summarize, we can see the real value of responsibility in three important areas of the life – individual responsibility towards the society, company responsibility for its business activity and leaders’ responsibility for their team’s members and achievement of the organization’s goals. I define responsible person as someone, who “says what he thinks and does what he says” – walk your talk.  We can see in each case it gives a value. And when it gives a good value, it makes people simply more happy – both sides. 

The real value of responsibility is happiness.

Thank you.


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