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Life comes with responsibilities. No escape from it – responsibility for oneself and others. Responsibilities can be uncomfortable, demanding, or a heavy burden. Some fear them, others embrace them. Understanding responsibilities and how they can benefit us is, not only important for becoming a successful leader, but also for having a meaningful life. 

What is the Responsibility? 

The noun responsibility comes from the Latin verb ‘respondere’, meaning ‘to respond’. At the origin, it didn’t imply fault or blame. 

In the late 18th century, responsibility appeared in the European languages with the same Latin meaning, add to it the notion of obligation. Fault and blame are not mentioned yet. Responsibility became the ‘obligation to respond’. 

Nowadays, responsibility is an obligation or moral duty to deal with or take care of somebody or something. It implies accountability for his actions. 

Responsibility can be voluntarily taken (stepping up at work) or not (taking care of the children). 

When it comes to a person, responsibility implies to take care of, guide, and protect. And when it comes to a task, it implies to do it well, to perfect it.  

Someone responsible is not only performing an obligation the way it should be but also can take the blame if something wrong happens.  

Taking the blame is a courageous act. That’s what makes responsibility difficult- we are the ultimate decision-maker; no one can take the blow for us. 

Stephen Covey, author of the book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, defines responsibility as the way we respond to the situation: 

“Look at the word responsibility—“response-ability”—the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.” 

Fear of Responsibility 

Amongst all fears, the fear of responsibility can be the most subtle. We often confuse it with a person’s character. For instance, if a person never wants to take new responsibilities at work, we won’t qualify it as fear, but rather say: it’s just how the person is! 

Almost everyone, at a certain point in life, experiences fear, anxiety, or hesitation when facing a new responsibility.  It’s normal.  

However, when the fear lasts and we don’t overcome it, our quality of life suffers from it. Personally, and professionally, we become unable to live to our potential and seize the opportunities that life presents. 

In some extreme cases, people can have Hypengyophobia, which is an irrational fear of responsibility. Just the simple thought of a responsibility provokes intense anxiety and can lead to panic attacks. 

The causes of the responsibility fear are various and not definitive. It can be provoked by the fear of making mistakes, the fear of others’ judgment, the fear of failure, a family history of anxiety disorders, a traumatic event… 

How to Overcome the Fear of Responsibility? 

Fear has different levels. It can vary from concern and worry to anxiety and terror. 

In the case of Hypengyophobia, it is wise to seek professional help. Many treatments exist. Exposure Therapy is the most common one. It consists of exposing gradually the patient to their fear over a given period. 

Otherwise, we need to take fear as it is – an anticipation of something that’s going to happen, and that needs preparation. 

The preparation can take various forms: change the meaning of failure, learn a new skill, meditate…The rule is to do the best you can to cope with the situation and handle it well. 

You might also consider using Tim Ferriss’ Fear-Setting Exercise. It is helpful when making decisions about something you fear. You consider the worst-case scenario in detail that prevents you from moving so that you can take action to overcome the paralysis. You can find more about this exercise in his Ted Talk below.

What are the Benefits of being Responsible? 

1. Discover your full potential 

There’s nothing worse than living a life of regrets. How can you know what you are capable of if you never face challenges? Responsibility reveals your potential. It allows you to live fully. The more responsibilities you agree voluntarily to take, the richer your life will be. In responsibility, there is growth, fulfillment, and meaning. 

2. Expand your comfort zone 

Here’s what happens when you stay in your comfort zone: you lose the drive, you don’t grow anymore and you start dying inside. Responsibility allows you to do something difficult. Seeking discomfort is the way to greatness. Every challenge that you overcome gives you more confidence that you can use for a bigger challenge. 

3. Create new opportunities 

When handling difficult tasks, you make mistakes, learn something new, and improve your decision-making process. Overall, you gain competency that opens new doors for you. 

4. Gain respect and trust of others 

No one gives his trust easily. By taking responsibility after responsibility, people start being attracted to you. They know that no matter what happens, you’ll be at the front handling any situation. Their respect and trust in you increase. 

Responsibility and Leadership 

In his book ‘Extreme Ownership’, Jocko Wilink, a retired US Navy officer, designates the leader as ultimately responsible for everything: 

“All responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.” 

Being responsible for everything doesn’t mean you are alone. By taking the blame, you gain the trust, respect, and the support of your people. They will help you do better in the future. 

Through the challenges of responsibility and leadership, we find out who we are and what we are capable of. 

There’s nobility in admitting mistakes and taking the blame. But most important, it clears the way of our defensiveness. When we are not seeking alibis, we are focused on solving problems. 

By taking gradually –and repeatedly- more responsibilities, the hard becomes easier. That’s the way to improve for leaders. As Emerson said:  

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier – not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.”