My dear friends,
The conventional meaning of responsibility is duty & accountability.
If you accept its wider meaning as ‘response-ability’, then the scenario expands.
Responsibility vis-à-vis ‘Response ability’
For example, if you see someone dying on the street out of an accident, are you responsible? The conventional meaning will suggest you “No”. But by the second meaning, you have so many options.
- If you are a doctor, you will try direct intervention.
- If you are not, you may call an ambulance.
- If you don’t have ambulance contact, you may yourself take him to the nearest hospital.
- If you are not in a car, you may stop the next passing car and escort him to the hospital.
- If you discover the identity of the injured person, you may inform his kith and kin.
Responsibility is enslavement or freedom?
Your eraser falls off a table. If you feel you are responsible, you have several choices before you:
- You could simply bend down and pick it up.
- You could ask someone to help.
- You might pick it up when you leave the table.
You have a variety of options. But if you don’t take responsibility, you have nothing to choose from. Which is freedom? To have choices or to have none?
Responsibility is self-application
When we praise a person as being responsible, what exactly we mean? Primarily we think that he takes charge of the job assigned to him. He does not lack “self-application”. I remember when I was the Chief (Planning) at NHPC, one manager was posted from the field. His table used to be absolutely clean with all the papers shifted from the “In” tray to the “Out” tray. The secret, I discovered, was that as soon as any paper would arrive on his table; he would start looking at it from the angle “which direction it should be marked to, downward, lateral or to some other department for action/ comments” in other words “passing the buck”. He was not prepared to take responsibility for any of the issues. He soon became a symbol of non-self-application and proved unfit for the department.
Responsibility vis-à-vis Courage & Leadership
Taking responsibility is the ultimate essence of personal courage. The following is a fine example of personal courage on one side and magnanimity & leadership on the other.
In 1979, India launched its first SLV-3 built by ISRO, whose Chairman was Prof. Satish Dhawan and APJ Abdul Kalam was Project Director of SLV Mission. In the first stage, everything worked fine. In the second stage, a problem developed. Instead of the satellite going into orbit, the whole rocket plunged into the Bay of Bengal. It was a big failure. Failure analysis was done and presented to the chairman Prof. Dhawan. Everyone was convinced about the technical cause-and-effect sequence and future failure management measures got settled. Just before the meeting was over, Dr Kalam suddenly stood up and said “Just 4 minutes before the launch, I had observed some leakage of Red Fuming Nitric Acid (RFNA) but ignored it thinking it was insignificant. As a Mission Director, I should have put the launch on hold and saved the flight. In a similar situation abroad, the Mission Director would have lost his job. I, therefore, take responsibility for the SLV-3 failure” Touched by Kalam’s honesty and personal courage in taking the responsibility, Prof. Dhawan said, “I am going to put Kalam in orbit!”
Dr. Kalam was very frightened to face the media and answer their criticism of wasting millions of people’s money. Prof. Satish Dhawan took Dr.Kalam to the press meet and made him sit aside and he said “We failed! But I have very good trust in my team that next time we will be succeeding for sure” and made everyone believe in the team’s competence.
The very next year, 18 July 1980, the same team led by Dr. Kalam successfully launched Rohini RS-1 into the orbit. The whole country was proud and cheering for the success of the launch. Prof. Satish Dhawan congratulated Dr. Kalam and the team and asked Dr. Kalam to conduct the press conference that day. The rest is History. Dr. Kalam led many more successful launches and became “Missile Man” of India. This would not have happened without what Prof. Satish Dhawan did on the day of his failure!
“Taking responsibility is the greatest mark of a great leader.”
Former U.S. President Harry S Truman was known to say, “The buck stops here.” That meant that people below his level may “pass the buck” or not take responsibility, but he could not afford to do so because he had the ultimate responsibility!
Invisible emotions driving one towards responsibility
There seem to be three invisible emotions which drive one towards responsibility. These are Love, Fear and Greed. If you love someone you feel responsible towards his/her concerns. If you have some kind of fear like losing your job; you will be forced to take responsibility. If you have any sort of greed say getting a fast-track promotion, you would try to take higher and higher responsibility to prove yourself. Taking responsibility makes you win hearts, getting over fear and accomplishing scintillating success. So, Take the responsibility and win the world!
With Best Wishes and Regards,
Dr. B.S.K.Naidu, BE (Hons), M.Tech., Ph.D., D.Eng. (Hon), FNAE, Hon.D.WRE (USA)
Chairman Emeritus, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurugram, INDIA