How to Take Responsibility of Your Life

Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”

How does this phrase reflect what is meant by ‘taking responsibility’?

As defined by the English Oxford dictionary, responsibility is:

  • The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone. Example: “a true leader takes responsibility for their team and helps them achieve goals”.
  • The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something. Example “the group has claimed responsibility for the vandalism of …..”


Responsibility impacts relationships

By definition there is an understanding that responsibility lies with an individual or a group/team.  Responsibility whether you take it or not has a direct impact on relationships – can you be relied on to do what you say you will do, and therefore, is there trust in that relationship?

Responsibility in one’s personal life is the same as in a business world, whoever you might be – husband, wife, mother, friend, subordinate, manager or leader.  Each one of these roles, and many others, encompasses the need to take responsibility for what you are doing, or what you have done. Firstly being answerable to yourself and secondly to others involved in the commitment to do something.


How is taking and showing responsibility manifested?

We show our ability to take responsibility:

  • By doing what we say we will do.  Not only that, but by doing it by the agreed time.
  • By admitting we have made a mistake, if indeed that is the case, and not blaming someone or something for the mistake.  Being honest with yourself and admitting a mistake, means you can learn from it and move on. 

Just because no one takes responsibility for the mistake does not mean the mistake did not happen.   Spending time and energy blaming someone else for the problem is counter-productive to empowering others as well as the end result.


4 Tips to taking responsibility

Tip 1.  Do what you say you will do and by when you say you will do it.

What happens if you committed to doing something and unforeseen circumstances occur, meaning you will not be able to deliver as agreed?

Of course, life throws curve balls at us on occasions, which lead to circumstances that we firstly did not seek, and secondly do not want.  Such circumstances are seldom the norm, and if you are a reliable, responsible person, this can be handled by explaining the situation and agreeing a “Plan B” once you know that you cannot deliver.  Do not delay, thus limiting the opportunity for the other party in finding an alternative solution in a timely manner.


Tip 2.  Take responsibility for your mistakes, rather than casting blame

Considering responsibility from a leader’s perspective is no different to responsibility in our personal lives, with the exception that we are part of and therefore committed to a team, thus having responsibility to each and every team member. 

Responsible leaders develop trust through doing what they say they will do and taking the blame; by admitting your performance is the reason why the team has not succeeded, rather than looking for someone to blame.  An effective leader will take responsibility for the mistake and admit he or she did not prepare enough, give enough guidance, or support, etc…

Leaders are the ones who have ultimate responsibility for decisions taken, whether right or wrong.  President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk in the Oval Office with  “The Buck Stops Here”.  This phrase refers to the fact that the President had to accept the ultimate responsibility for decisions taken in his team.


Tip 3. Empower your team to share the risks & responsibilities

Empowerment of people goes a little further by expanding on the notion of taking responsibility.  A leader who is able to create an empowerment culture within the team and the organisation, gives out responsibility and power.  “Empowerment is the creation of an organisational climate that releases the knowledge, experience and motivation that reside in people.” (Ken Blanchard, Leading at a Higher Level)

Empowering subordinates is easier said than done for many reasons, including subordinates themselves misinterpreting the term “empowerment”, often mistaking it for freedom to work as they please whilst making decisions around their own job.  Empowerment requires direct reports to embrace the freedom and in doing so participate fully in sharing risks and responsibilities.  This commitment to increased responsibility to achieve full empowerment engages direct reports and gives them a sense of fulfillment, ultimately leading to greater organisation performance. 


Does empowering others to take responsibility really work?

There are numerous organisation studies that demonstrate the benefits of empowerment including an increase in return on sales between companies that empower and companies that do not empower.  Edward E. Lawler III, Professor of Business at the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business, found the difference to be 10.3% versus 6.3% increase on return of sales.  


Tip 4. As a direct report, commit to taking a full share of the risks and the responsibilities.

“In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape our ourselves.  The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are our own responsibility.”  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt




Oxford English Dictionary

Leading at a Higher Level, Ken Blanchard

Edward E. Lawler III, Professor of Business at the University of Southern California


Originally published on Up Journey  May 29 2019





Rachel Shackleton is an entrepreneur who owns and manages Green Key Personal Development and Green Key Health. Working with local and multinational organisations, she is a public speaker and trainer in the spheres of leadership, communication and customer excellence. She ensures sustainable productivity and profitability through healthy self-management and leadership practices, ensuring a focused and successful workforce.






New here? I write about leadership development, communication and customer excellence, including health and well-being at work. You can read similar blogs here:


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