Today Jaime Hlavin helps us understand an incredibly important principle . . . responsibility to vs. responsibility for. Enjoy ~ John
As leaders, we probably feel the weight of this word more heavily than most. We have big responsibilities. We make major decisions that affect lives physically, emotionally, spiritually, and/or financially.
Functioning healthily in that responsibility often depends on what preposition we put at the end of the word: to or for.
Do we feel the weight of responsibility for those we lead or do we feel the weight of responsibility to them?
As leaders, we have the responsibility to provide good leadership, sound doctrine, pastoral care, etc. However, we are not responsible for the way individuals choose to handle what we’ve provided. It’s easy to get emotionally invested in such a way that we get really bogged down in feeling responsible for the actions and behaviors of others.
Learning to navigate the for and to of responsibility is an ongoing journey in ministry and leadership.
I remember our earliest lessons coming when my husband and I youth pastored many years ago. Our students would sometimes say things like, “I’m doing so well in my life and it’s all because of you!” We were very quick to put the kybosh on that because, while we understood the heart of what was being claimed, such statements could easily become a dangerous two sided coin: Please don’t give me all the credit for your success because it becomes easier to blame me for your mistakes as well!
We would encourage these students by telling them they weren’t doing well in life because of us, but rather they learned information we provided and chose to make right decisions.
If we aren’t able to appropriately differentiate what we are truly responsible to versus what we are responsible for, the emotional toll can be devastating. As leaders, we can provide mechanisms, tools and teaching, but at the end of the day the people we lead are ultimately responsible for what they do with those.
Stephen Covey wrote about the idea of two circles in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He writes about two circles which contain our lives, the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence.
The Circle of Concern encompasses all the things we care about—our personal concerns (health, career, relationships, etc.), to our global concerns (global warming, war, recession, etc.)
The Circle of Influence includes the things we have the power to affect. This circle is smaller than the Circle of Concern The book goes on to show its readers how to be proactive and affect change by focusing their energies in their Circle of Influence.
For leaders, responsibility to falls within the circle of influence. Here we concentrate our efforts and energy on the things we can influence. Responsibility for resides in the circle of concern. If we spend more time and energy on things we cannot influence, our leadership becomes much more stressful and much less effective. The circle of concern is often where depression and anxiety live. The circle of influence is often where joy and peace live.
We’re not encouraging a fatalistic “it-is-what-it-is” outlook, because we are still called to lead well and love deeply. Hopefully today’s post comes across as a word of wisdom to help us balance our tendency to feel responsible for when we should be responsible to.
As leaders, if we can offset this propensity, we’ll be able to lead better, lead longer and enjoy it more.
I’m rooting and praying for you!