“I never lose - either I win, or I learn”: Reflections Around the Concept of Responsibility

- Mar 10, 2018-

I would like to share some informal thoughts about the concept of responsibility, which is central to the redefinition of the company of the future. It’s a concept I find myself employing daily, and I continue to gain experience in this area alongside my teams. As has been the case since my first days in the business, I consider each new challenge a fresh start.

A responsible attitude: a central, humanist value

 Responsibility is first and foremost an adult attitude. It is the result of human action and necessitates the sharing of meaning with others. It requires us to collectively adhere to the notion behind the idea of responsibility, which of itself is a responsibility. It’s also a form of awareness, a life philosophy. Having responsibility implies an asymmetrical relationship—without reciprocity—in which you are responsible for others but expect nothing in return. This requires tolerance and humanism, a precursor to collective responsibility.

The concept of some divine essence—of some ineffable quality one just happens to be born with—is sometimes attributed to leadership, but the true mark of leadership is responsibility. Indeed, when we speak of leadership, I prefer to view it differently from its commonly accepted meaning of “leader of men”. The concept’s virtue ultimately lies in the faculty of “leading”. To call oneself a leader, finally, is to endorse a concept that has no clear definition. I prefer to consider leadership as being an example of others, as “doing what you say and saying what you do”.

Free will as a factor of entity transformation

An attitude of empowerment is premised on free will. It means being capable of choice. Within the setting of a company – or any other complex environment – that free will is held in by a multiplicity of barriers and a limited capacity to chance the course of events.

Nonetheless, it is indeed free will that, through the choices it implies, guarantees that a culture of individual and collective empowerment will spread across the organisation and become the major factor for transformation for any organisation. The choices one makes are never free of risk. However, they demonstrate our capacity to make decisions and illustrate how we approach and measure risk.

Applying the principle of responsibility to any decision, weighing out the potential benefits or risks is the best barrier to failure. Responsibility thus invites individuals to be rational and rely on reasoning and modern logical thinking. This implies the consideration of “facts & figures”, but also understanding the reason, the consequence and the “plan B” that inherently lies behind each of our choices. At the same time, it means going further than the basic binary A/B scenario. It is through our professional experiences that intuition is forged, and intuition is what nurtures our ability to make the right decisions.

Failure as a means of taking action on the future

In Persian culture, to which I belong, the “pragmatism - fatalism” dialectic is possible. The fatalism of the Eastern world and the Asia Minor is born of contrasting climates, very harsh winters and sweltering summers. However, it is overtaken by a pragmatism that pushes forward. When they fail, people move on, and don’t carry the weight of defeat on their shoulders when facing the next challenge. Failure isn’t taken as a lesson about the past, but as an experience that will serve what is to come. This fold of the mind is characteristic of entrepreneurs as well as coaches.

Nelson Mandela liked to affirm: “I never lose: either I win, or I learn. ” He would also say: “Don’t judge me on my successes, judge me on the number of times I have fallen and gotten up again”. We have to accept that success is often a matter of luck. In and of itself, it teaches us nothing. Failure—so long as it is not experienced as a fundamental questioning of the self—is replete with valuable lessons. It is also important to know how to accept, in some cases, the incompleteness of a problem, and cast aside the desire to solve everything after having looked at “x” probabilities, a lesson which my engineering background taught me.

Being responsible for a company in the 21st century might therefore be seen to entail understanding and balancing everyone’s rights and responsibilities. It is important to understand why a profitable company makes money and ensure that its employees, each at their own level, collectively share in that performance. It is in the moral and philosophical order of things.