How personal responsibility can transform your team

When your team members are empowered to take responsibility for their actions and solutions, it can be a game-changer.

Steffan Surdek
September 5, 2022
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You have probably noticed in the past couple of years that hiring good people is getting more and more difficult. Additionally, it seems like such a waste to hire people and not fully use their leadership potential.

Have you ever met anyone who holds themselves back? This is what I call a dormant leader. Do you know who are the dormant leaders amongst your team members, employees or colleagues?

In the business world, many dormant leaders feel like victims. They feel as if things get inflicted or imposed on them and they have no other choice. In short, they abdicate their personal responsibility to other people.

In this article, we will dig deeper into how you can encourage a perspective shift in dormant leaders around you. You can do this by empowering your team members to take more responsibility for what is happening to them.

The concept of personal responsibility

I am borrowing this idea from Jack Canfield, who presents it as a key principle in his book The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. He calls this taking 100% responsibility for your life.

The concept is to approach your life with the idea that you can take full responsibility for what is happening to you. No more complaining about what is happening to you, no more victimization, no more blaming others. These behaviours drain your personal power and your ability to act.

To start taking 100% responsibility for your actions, go through this non-exhaustive list of questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is a difficult or troubling situation for you at work?
  2. How are you creating this or allowing it to happen?
  3. What would you rather be experiencing?
  4. What actions will you take to create this desired outcome?

Let's dig deeper into how you can use these questions as inspiration for a potential discussion to empower an employee, team member or colleague.

How do I help my team to feel empowered?

Let's go over some of the key questions that we mentioned above and show you at a high level how to use them with the intention of empowering your team. You do not need to use them as is, you may not even want to use them sequentially.

The intention of the question “how are you creating this or allowing it to happen?” is to help someone see what they are doing that is contributing to a situation. For example, an introverted employee may be allowing people to step all over them and interrupt them. If they were able to step up and cut off that other person themselves, things could be different.

When you believe the person you are speaking to is contributing to the situation, you can bring up this question. Using this idea as a starting point, you can see if they are aware of their contribution and its impact. Based on their answer, you may also want to share some of your observations and talk about what they can do differently.

The next questions “what would you rather be experiencing?” and “what actions will you take to create this?” are about imagining a desired outcome and how to get there. It does not have to be perfect, it just needs to be a couple of steps to start moving towards a solution.

You can ask a question similar to this when you want to move the person from powerlessness or inaction into taking action. The idea behind all of this is to help the other person feel empowered that there is something they can do about their situation.

How do I encourage my team to find solutions?

The other strategy you can use is to talk about a problem and explore what the other person wants to do about it. The important thing to remember here is to let them do the talking. How are they seeing the problem? What did they try to do up to now? What worked and what did not work?

Essentially, you talk through the issue together and come up with a tangible plan of action. The starting point should be their idea, unless they directly ask what you would do if you were in their shoes.

When you have these conversations with your employees, it is an opportunity to help them transform their perspective as well as their mindset. They may not find it easy at first to come up with ideas.

What you really want is to help people find their own way of doing things. A team member may think something seems impossible, but they potentially have the power to change it.

Feel free to feed them some of your advice if it can help. When you do this though, have them talk you through how they want to put the idea in place. When people make their own decisions, it is easier for them to take ownership of them.

How do I create new possibilities for someone?

Creating new and interesting possibilities is all about paying attention to what your employees are telling you. What are their interests? What are the growth areas they would like to explore?

Keep your eyes open for opportunities that can help them grow. It does not necessarily mean creating a new position in the company for them. This can be as simple as delegating to them something they would like to do.

Another way to create new possibilities for someone is to look for leadership opportunities in your department or elsewhere in the organization. Maybe they could help lead a community of practice or get involved in volunteering.

Once you get a good sense of this, the next step for you is to challenge them. Either ask them how they want to take on this opportunity or ask them to practice with you. Use their ideas and build on top of them.

When you give them these possibilities, use it as a coaching opportunity to help them step up and explore something new.


As a leader it is important for you to understand the deep-seated dynamics of your team. These factor into how they act day-to-day and how they think when trying to solve an issue.

What you should initially be trying to do is make them feel empowered to take responsibility of their contribution to the situation. Do this by asking powerful questions that are open-ended, unlike closed questions that people answer by "yes" or "no".

You should also encourage them to think about their next actions. This way, they will have ownership of finding their own solutions.

You can also create new and interesting possibilities for someone. You can also help them think through one of their ideas to create a new opportunity for themselves.

I want to inspire you with a different way to approach these conversations with the people around you. Keep in mind the different possibilities and find the approach that best suits your own leadership style and the conversation you want to have.

What could change in your workplace if you empowered your team with personal responsibility? As a leader, what could you do to change this?