A couple of weeks ago I took part in a seminar called Strength from Responsible Choices in Jyväskylä. The seminar was well organized and full of interesting speakers, including Mr. Al Gore. But I was more inspired by the Finnish speakers, presidential candidate and former minister Sauli Niinistö in particular. Janne Porkka also proved, at least to me, that he is much more than a mere game show host. In the seminar, responsibility was discussed not only from the environmental viewpoint but others as well.
The seminar got me thinking about what responsibility really means to me personally, and what it means in Finnish working life. I realized that the definition of the word “responsibility” wasn’t quite clear to me. I looked it up in Finnish on Wikipedia: “… that someone has to answer for something (take the blame for some event).” This supported Niinistö’s idea about how, in our society and working life, responsibility has developed a negative meaning: The burden of responsibility is too heavy for many to carry.
After thinking about it for a while, I agreed with Niinistö. Responsibility should lead to happiness. If I’m responsible for something, it means that my work is significant, and thus merely doing my job is success. Usually, success creates happiness. Quite simple, isn’t it?
Why, then, is being responsible seen as something negative? The most common reason for failure is that our starting points, premises, expectations, and assumptions are a kind that do not lead to success. Responsibility must be the right “fit” for the person. It must be suitable for their abilities, the task, and the shared values of the work community. Often the reason is that responsibilities haven’t been defined at all. “Your responsibility is to sell” is not a sufficient definition.
People often talk about how responsibility, power, and freedom do not match. Or that responsibility is so great that it leads to mental problems. Most often it is a case of fundamental problems in the company. These days there is a lot of uncertainty in the economy and society. Nevertheless, working communities should feel safe, or in other words, be well led. Rough winds in working communities cannot always be avoided, but the key is how they are handled. This creates the atmosphere and motivation that makes it possible for responsibility to carry the individual and the company to success and happiness, and helps overcome difficult situations.
How, then, do we succeed? It is not enough that I, personally, know my responsibilities and what is expected of me; others should also know – and understand. Not surprisingly, the best remedy is communication, and dialogue in particular. Often, if not always, we assume too much, and instead of dialogue, we merely send people information via, for example, email. We should put our assumptions into words and use dialogue to ensure that we have a common understanding. Responsibility should also be linked with our values, so we know what responsibility means in our operations within the working community. This is, of course, assuming that our values have been defined, and in a way that is not mere empty rhetoric such as “we are reliable”.
I want to encourage us all to take time to think: “Do I know what is expected of me? What is my responsibility? Do I know what others are responsible for? What are our shared values?” As Niinistö said, it is always regrettable if our answer is, “Oh, I’m just running this machine.” And if you feel like your responsibilities are unclear, you should talk about them with your supervisor and colleagues. Indeed, I hope you know who your supervisor is, so you don’t have to answer, “There are two people who I suspect might be my supervisor,” as someone once answered me.
What does responsibility mean for me as a CEO? Well, at least it means that I want to start creating a better future today.
This post was originally published on alykastyo.fi.