Have you ever got frustrated with a someone who appeared to be shirking thier responsibilities? I know I have. However, when I reflect I often end up feeling sorry for them. Most people want to do thier best, it is not that they don't want to step up, but that someone else has stolen the actual step!
Not literally of course, but I think about the culture they work in and specifically the way thier managers treat them and I am not so surprised they don't take responsibility, they are not empowered to do so, in fact quite often they are actively disempowered.
If you work in a regulated environment, the odds are you won’t have a culture where people are allowed, let alone encouraged, to come up with their own ideas and make decisions as they see fit. In many large organisations too, people are actively discouraged from being empowered. In a call centre for example, whilst staff may be allowed to make small decisions, most of what they are "allowed" to say is actually scoped out, flow charted and pre-determined.
But assuming you do have a culture that values ideas, creativity, innovation and decisive action, why else might people not take responsibility? I always think that people rise or sink to the level of expectation of their immediate manager. If you have a manager who micromanages you and questions everything you do, you soon tire of coming up with your own ideas. Equally if you are always ridiculed or chastised when your decisions don’t quite work out, you will stop making decisions.
Of course you also need the skills, behaviours and knowledge to be truly empowered. Do you know how to make decisions? Do you know how to gather evidence? Do you know how to sell your ideas? Do you know to mitigate risk and weigh up the impact of your decisions?
Lastly, and this has only recently occurred to me, how mentally tough are you? How resilient? Do you know how to manage your own reactions and emotions when trying out new things? Can you handle your own fears and concerns, especially in the face of other peoples potential negatively? How do you cope when things don’t quite go according to plan? Do you actually have the confidence to just have a go?
The journey from disempowered to empowered is therefore multifaceted. Many people have these skills and attitudes, but if you are on the journey think about some of the key steps you personally might need to take. Also take note of the conditions you are operating in. You would not set sail in a gale, and if you did the journey would be more challenging, you might need more preparation. The same applies if the culture you work in does not support empowerment. You can still take responsibility and be empowered, but you might need more skills and be more resilient to get the same success. You might benefit from creating a personal development plan in order to help you gain the skills required to take these steps.
When you have the right conditions though, the journey is much easier, the key steps are more straightforward, and the rewards are there for both the individual and the organisation.