Responsibility is a word with many meanings. The Oxford Dictionary definition offers:

• The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone: women bear children and take responsibility for child care
• The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something: the group has claimed responsibility for a string of murders
• The opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization: we would expect individuals lower down the organization to take on more responsibility
• (Often responsibilities) a thing that one is required to do as part of a job, role, or legal obligation: he will take over the responsibilities of overseas director
• [In singular] (responsibility to/toward) a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of: individuals have a responsibility to control personal behavior

Most of us would likely agree with those definitions. Yet it is those very definitions that may be constricting our thinking, behavior and outcomes…

What if responsibility were defined as the ability to respond freely?

Response-ability: the ability to choose without reactivity? A leader who is constantly in reaction loses the ability to choose. How does that impact your communication, relationships, and effectiveness?

This happens over and over at work and home. We interpret responsibility as being about duty, control, accountable for others, etc. We hardly ever interpret responsibility as being about our own ability to respond. Yet that is the one thing that is within our sphere of influence.

Why? Because we have become accustomed to our reactions. They may be uncomfortable, but at least they are familiar. This is how we get stuck in dysfunctional communication patterns with bosses, subordinates, children, parents, and partners.

How would your communication and effectiveness improve if you could choose how to respond?

I have worked with clients who were willing to practice new ways in order to circumvent the old, familiar patterns that were keeping them “stuck.”

Amy had a long-standing pattern of negative conversations with her boss. He was difficult to read and more difficult to please. She became aware that she had reactive patterns around him, and that these were held in her body, mood and emotions. Learning to relax through breath, she opened the way for “response-ability.” She eventually learned how to engage in making effective requests, asking for more challenging assignments, and contributing to high-impact projects. Gradually she perceived herself differently, and evolved into the leader she truly was.

These are the 7 Steps to “Response-Ability” we used:

1) Create awareness of your pattern
2) See “what is as is”
3) Breathe deeply from abdomen to create deep relaxation and “response-ability”
4) Choose emotions that promote feelings of open-heartedness and well-being
5) Notice any sensations in the body where there is holding or discomfort
6) Breathe deeply to release the patterns of holding in the body
7) Become response-able instead of reactive

The 7-step process sounds simple and it is. The challenge is that it requires consistent practice and repetition in order to be effectively used in high-stakes situations.

We invite you to share a Response-ability success story here. If you want to develop or refine your ability to respond instead of react, fill out our brief online application.

Author's Bio: 

Susan S. Freeman, MBA, ACC, NCC
Executive Success Strategist
Author and Speaker
Founder, Step Up Leader

Susan Freeman is author of the new book, “Step Up Now: 21 Powerful Principles for People Who Influence Others,” and the Founder of Step Up Leader. She is an experienced and respected Executive Success Strategist whose passion is helping entrepreneurial leaders go from “stuck” to “unstuck.” She has created a unique system that helps people access their emotional intelligence so they can lead powerfully and authentically. Susan has helped clients in diverse industries and roles obtain passion, clarity, and exceptional results.

She received her B.A. in Psychology from Wellesley College and her M.B.A. in Marketing from Columbia University in New York. She brings to her clients more than 25 years of strategic marketing, non-profit, and retained executive search experience in London and New York. She received her coach training and certification from The Newfield Network. Susan is an accredited coach with the International Coach Federation, as well as an MSP-certified business facilitator.

Susan is a native of Kansas City and resides in Tampa, FL. She is an active member of The Athena Society and a Leadership Tampa Alumna. Committed to education, Susan has served on several educational boards at the secondary and university level. Her global passion is developing young women entrepreneurial leaders in Rwanda, where she is currently involved with The Akilah Institute, a school that empowers young women with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to become leaders.