Navigating Difficult Conversations: A Leader's Guide to Responsibility

Difficult conversations are an unavoidable aspect of leadership. How you approach them can profoundly impact your team's dynamics and the outcomes you achieve. Let's challenge a common belief that leaders bear the ultimate responsibility and explore an alternative mindset - one where leadership is not about taking responsibility for others but being responsible to others.


The Responsibility Perspective

Leaders often hear phrases like "the buck stops with you" or "if your team isn't succeeding, then you aren't succeeding".  These sayings encourage the belief that leaders should carry the weight of their team's successes and failures. But what if we turn this perspective around? 

What if, as a leader, you are responsible to others and not for them?

Embracing this shift can be transformative. It can revolutionize your leadership style, reduce frustration, and pave the way for more productive interactions. 


Letting Go of the Uncontrollable

As you internalize the idea of being responsible to others, you'll naturally begin to let go of things beyond your control. You'll focus on what you can influence and change. This shift empowers you to empathize more deeply with other's perspectives and empowers you to guide them toward their best decisions.  

Leading becomes more manageable, and conversations become smoother because you're no longer fixated on others "getting it". Instead, you prioritize understanding them and use that knowledge as a tool to help them see where you're coming from. 


A Real-Life Example

Let's illustrate this shift with a real-life scenario. Early in my career, I oversaw a new graduate rotation program. At the end of the program, participants were placed into positions based on their interests and availability.

One participant expressed displeasure with her compensation, comparing it to peers who were earning more in a more lucrative industry. As her leader, my responsibility was to listen and understand her concerns and then explain the company's compensation system and career advancement opportunities.

However, I wasn't accountable for her reaction or her decision to stay or leave. She alone held that responsibility. Ultimately, she chose to stay, but I was prepared for any outcome. I controlled what I could, which was providing information and support, and left the rest to her, respecting her agency. 

As a leader, you must be willing to take responsibility for what you can do and say, leaving the rest to unfold naturally. 


Take Action Challenge

In leadership, understanding that you are responsible to others and not for them is a transformative perspective. It allows you to focus on what you can control, empathize with others, and guide them toward their own decisions. Embracing this mindset can lead to more effective leadership, smoother conversations, and better outcomes for both you and your team.

Your Challenge:

Make it a practice to incorporate the 'responsible to' mindset in your leadership journey. Set intentions for future interactions, focusing on guiding and supporting rather than shouldering all responsibility.

Reach out, and let's work together to tailor this mindset to your unique leadership journey, challenges, and goals. Together, we can elevate your leadership skills and help you navigate difficult conversations more confidently and easily. 

Lisa Holden Rovers, MSc, CPHR, PCC, is the Founder of Workplace Matters. Since 2005, she has been coaching small and mid-sized business leaders to grow their influence and inspire their teams to thrive. With her data-driven coaching and training approach, Lisa helps clients improve collaboration, productivity, and well-being. As a certified leadership and team coach, Lisa utilizes solutions like Everything DiSC® and The Five Behaviors® to help clients leverage their strengths and build high-performing teams.

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