3 simple traits of responsible self-leadership

I had said thank you and she had welled up. This is my first memory of making a friend. Adulting means you remember odd things like your first interaction with some people who later become friends. I have a memory of such a meeting years ago. I was meeting a teacher during parent teacher interaction in the school for my then sixth-grader kid. The teacher, new to the school, had marked zero for an assignment. As I sat down with my child in tow, I thanked her for marking a zero for late submission of his assignment. A good way to teach children the value of time, I had thought. And, this was only sixth grade and a small class assignment. The teacher’s reaction had surprised me and probably the reason why the moment is etched in my memory. She revealed, most parents had complained about the zero and had suggested that she should have cut some marks for the late submission instead of cutting all marks. Not only a sense of entitlement was being pushed at her but also her way to nurture children was being questioned. She was only teaching responsibility to the children. 

“The only approach I know that gives parents any hope of truly providing their children with around the clock protection is that of instilling within them the internal desire to make right choices, even when no one else is watching. And the only way to do that is to teach children correct principles- and the earlier the better.”

Stephen R. Covey in the book, The Leader In Me. 

One of the biggest responsibilities of parenting is to make the child a responsible human being. The book, Leader in Me by Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  taught me that parenting needs to inculcate responsible decision making skills. Let kids learn to make choices and therefore decisions and therefore take responsibility for that decision. What is good to eat, whether you should play truth or dare, which sport interests you want to pursue further, should you submit the work on time or it is ok to delay? Making your own decisions teaches you to be responsible. 

Responsibility is a skill that is taught since childhood, yet adulting tends to skip the steps of responsibility from time to time. In this week’s Habits for Thinking, I am bringing your attention to a basic trait where a single irresponsible behaviour can lead to a fatal end. 

Stephen R. Covey writes:

“Not all parents want their children to grow up to be CEOs or a nation’s president, but I cannot think of a parent who does not want his or her child to be able to lead his or her own life, to be a strong example for others, to live by principles, to be an influence for good. And that is called self leadership- doing the right thing when no one is looking. Every child has that kind of leadership within. The challenge is how to bring it out, how to nurture it.”  

This week’s piece is triggered by the missteps of responsibility trait, not just by individuals but also by companies, big and small. The tsunami-like second wave of pandemic is an ongoing proof of irresponsible behaviour by human kind. Responsibility is the reverse of a zero-sum game. If one grows responsible, it lifts others’ levels too. As one gets responsible in one area, it multiples in other areas too. There is no full stop here. 

Responsibility fuels moral intelligence. Moral intelligence was first developed as a concept in 2005 by Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel, Ph.D. They defined that the construct of moral intelligence consists of four competencies related to integrity, three to responsibility, two to forgiveness and one to compassion Responsibility’s three competencies are 1) taking personal responsibility, 2) admitting mistakes and failures, and 3) embracing responsibility for serving others. (see article Moral Intelligence – the remarkable trait for leaders). 

In Habits for Thinking, here is the illustration of three competencies. The point to remember is that responsibility is a lifelong process and there is always a scope of improvement.  

1. Taking personal responsibility  

Self leadership, as defined by Stephen Covey, not just stands true for children but also for each one of us. Responsibility is actually a self-care act. Adulting is hard, because one doesn’t remember the right things. Like the responsibility of self care – mental and physical. The care means to ensure both physical fitness and mental growth. It is not just about wearing a mask but it is also about staying away from triggers that cause anxiety and negativity like doom scrolling on social media apps. That is a hard responsible behaviour to follow.  See a tweet below, nudging towards a responsible behaviour.

2. Admitting mistakes and failures:

A responsible person takes the ownership of his actions. It is about being accountable for mistakes and failures and accepting responsibility for consequences of our actions. This is a trait that develops the growth mindset of the practitioner as he works to improve on his mistake. 

3. Embracing responsibility for serving others:

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a means through which a company incorporates environmental, social and human development concerns into its planning and actions to ensure that its operations are ethical and beneficial for society. CSR in India has traditionally been seen as a philanthropic activity. However, with the introduction of Section 135 in the Companies Act 2013, India became the first country to have statutorily mandated CSR for specified companies. The Act requires companies with a net worth of ₹500 crore or more, or turnover of ₹1,000 crore or more, or a net profit of ₹5 crore or more during the immediately preceding financial year, to spend 2 percent of the average net profits of the immediately preceding three years on CSR activities.

Imagine, without the purview of the law, if there were corporate leaders who took responsibility for the well being of people during these times. Ten unicorns have been announced this year raising millions of rupees for their businesses, six of them just in a few days in April. The Economic Times writes- Half a dozen Indian startups raised $1.55 billion (Rs 11,580 crore) to enter the unicorn club between April 5 and April 9.  Large, deep pockets of unicorns means large power to influence and great capacity to help. There are ways to help people, customers. Pharmeasy, one of the recently anointed unicorns, uses its social media presence to remind people about mask and responsible behaviour. Maybe they could do more. Cred, Meesho, Groww and other freshly funded unicorns can use some influence too- for example see the images. 

As the onus of being a responsible person doesn’t lie on the lawmaker, similarly the onus of corporate responsibility should not be on the 2% profit spend CSR law, but it should be on the leadership. Unicorns can be responsible self-leaders too. 

My teacher friend who cut all the marks to teach responsible behaviour to kids would have given a full score just on the attribute of shared responsibility to these companies. After all most unicorns are young in age. Well, it would have mattered somewhere! 

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