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Taking Responsibility is Integral to Any Good Work

G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE, which included frontline curriculum, communicative approach to language teaching, Information Technology, alternatives to homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at educational conferences world over.

This article has been taken from G. Balasubramanian’s official website


As I walked out of the house, I was thrilled that the officials of the electricity board had replaced the lamp post outside the house which was almost threatening to fall for a long time. I wanted to personally thank them for their attention. But was a little dismayed at the same time that the old, condemned post was just lying nearby creating inconvenience and a hazard. When approached, one of the officials said, “That is not our job sir. We are expected only to erect the new post. That will be done by the Municipality people.” Indeed, the reply was shocking. A part of the job of clearing the debris in and around the place of work was indeed the responsibility of the workman.

It is said ‘Work is Worship’. It is a way of our communication of our best intents, our best talents, our commitments, our sincerity to a system with which we are engaged. Though the compensation one gets for all these may be good or trivial, depending on various factors, the quality of execution of work should not bear a relationship with the above, as work by itself has an impact with a large section of people around us, in terms of its bearing on the life’s purposes, safety, security and wellbeing of them. Hence, any work calls for a responsible attitude which gives the satisfaction of executing it well, which in itself is a reward. "The price of greatness is responsibility" says Sir Winston Churchill.

"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 behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling." Says Stephen R. Covey.

A responsible work calls for a total responsibility in its execution – from its conception to its end. At times, when the individual is just a part in its time and execution line, the completeness and excellence of that part matters and speaks of the work profile of that individual.

Some factors that defy the responsible execution of work are:

1. Low self-esteem

People with low self-esteem often believe that they are just a tiny part of a larger system and hence they have neither a major role to play nor are they positioned at a place where their contribution matters. They have a self-negating attitude and think that someone else will take care of, if things go wrong. They suffer from a sub-ordinate attitude.

2. Equating responsibility with rewards

There are a number of jobs where people feel that they are underpaid for the amount and quality of work they do. It may be true. They tend to think that whatever they do is sufficient for the kind of compensation they receive. This psychological depression of inadequacy demotivates them from being their best or in trying to execute things much better. I would only recall the words of Martin Luther King (Jr). "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

3. Working by the letter than the spirit

A few people think that they are only small people down the line and there is a boss right at the top whose job is to supervise and control quality. Hence, they tend to wait till they are advised, directed or instructed to do every piece of the whole job. Until then, they will be doing the work only in parts. They are the people who often say, "I did what you said" or "you did not tell me that I will also do all other things associated with it." They usually go by the letter of the instruction rather than the spirit of doing the work. "Ninety-nine percent of failures come from people who have a habit of making excuse" says George Washington.

4. Indifference

Indifference to work may arise due to several reasons. Charles was indifferent because he was not considered for promotions. Gopi was indifferent because he was not transferred to a place of his choice. Rao was indifferent because he had to retire from work in a year. Shelly was indifferent because she had some domestic issues haunting her mind. And, there are many like that in every organisation. There are some people who are habituated to a very casual and indifferent attitude because they know they are secure in their jobs. When questioned Tikka said “Listen, I am a union leader. I have to look after the welfare of so many. Where I will find full time to attend to the work. Manager should understand this.” There are others, who are indifferent, because no one is watching them. "Enough is enough" is attitude of some people who work within a comfort zone. All these and more contribute to a climate of irresponsibility in an organisation. "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow, by evading it today" says Abraham Lincoln.

5. Negligence

Negligence to responsible work among employees might arise due to several factors like – stress, unorganised work culture, inability to set priorities, lack of focus, poor health conditions, psychological disturbances, unwarranted urgency to finish a given task and the like. Oftentimes, negligence is the cause of loss of profit, achievements, reputation and relationships. In certain sectors of work, it becomes the cause of unsafe conditions, accidents both human and otherwise, and disasters. In the recent past, a number of uncapped manholes, uncovered deep wells due to negligence of one or the other, has been the cause of death of a number of young children. In late seventies, when I attended a safety training program, the first lesson I got was "Accidents do not happen; they are caused."

6. Passing the buck syndrome

Mr. Nangia was a senior officer. Though he was well matured, he had a great fear for taking responsibilities. Hence, whenever important decisions had to be taken, he would take leave stating some health condition and would ask others to take the decision. ‘Passing the buck’ was his natural work profile. There are a few in each organisation who are quite unsure of themselves or their capabilities. They feel that they could be unnecessarily held responsible even for small incorrect decisions and hence avoid assuming responsibilities. "Most people do not want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility; most people are frightened of responsibility" says Sigmund Freud.

7. Looking for a black sheep

Subash worked as the head of HR in an automobile company. He suffered from a serious negative approach in life. Consequently, he would not believe anybody working under him. Hence, he would neither give them correct information nor issue correct instructions. However, whenever things were incomplete, whenever thing went wrong, he would hunt for blacksheeps to fix responsibilities, just to protect himself from being responsible for whatever happened. People with inadequate skills, poor knowledge, who feel challenged by their subordinates often tend to belong to this category.

8. Lack of social consciousness

A number of jobs relate to discharging services for the community or the society. In such cases, the irresponsible attitudes lead to large scale problems. Even minor mistakes due to lack of social consciousness may lead to social upheavals. People with poor social consciousness prefer to keep personal interests over social interests. For personal gains, they adopt to corrupt practices, unethical methods, manipulations of rules and systems and red tape causing inordinate delay for delivering basic services. They are great dangers to the society.

In contrast, people who are continuous learners, who update their professional skills in the interest of their own growth, who are enterprising, who have social consciousness tend to take responsibilities even if they are not told.


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