Responsibility and Discipline

At the heart of the concept of responsibility is the beautiful idea that it is about “response” (RESPONS-ability), which means that responsibility always has to do with relationships. In other words, responsibility is inherently mutual. You simply cannot use imposed discipline to make someone act responsibly.

So often we treat and confuse responsibility with obedience, as if responsibility can be imposed. Just as imposed discipline does not work, neither does imposed responsibility. There is a failure in the structure of imposition because it lacks mutuality. Although we think we give responsibility, responsibility must be TAKEN if it is to be implemented—hence its mutuality.

Responsibility has a counterpart: accountability. One reason that people resist imposed accountability is that the people at the top tell others what they are accountable for but not what they, themselves, are accountable for.

If you expect someone to be responsible and therefore accountable for OPTIMAL performance, whether at work or at school, then you must move away from imposed discipline and instead influence the person to WANT to be so. An easy way to do this is to tell the person in what ways YOU will be accountable. For example, if you are a school principal, inform the staff in what ways the faculty can count on you (mutual respect, professional recognition, cooperative evaluations, etc.). If you are a teacher, inform students in what ways they can count on you (providing a classroom where students will WANT to spend their time, planning on your part to present meaningful and important lessons and engaging activities, etc). If you are a parent, the same applies (providing food, shelter, a loving relationship, someone to trust to protect their well-being, etc.)

To put the concept in easy-to-remember terms, collaboration is more effective than domination.