The Purpose of Assuming Full Responsibility

September 19, 2012

I’m a huge fan of purpose; I think it is the missing element in most organizations. One of my favorite statements of purpose is this one from the University of Texas:

Transform lives for the benefit of society

I love that. I believe we should all be working to improve our society, and I believe that the key to improvement at the corporate level is transformation at the individual level.

Here is my problem with that statement of purpose – its posture does not promote for those it was intended to serve what I believe is the single most important catalyst of individual transformation and ultimately societal improvement – personal responsibility. Embedded in this statement of purpose is the assumption that it is the responsibility of the University of Texas to transform the lives of its students. As I’ve said here many times before, unless and until you assume full responsibility for yourself, you force others to assume responsibility for you. Assuming responsibility for yourself is your foundational act of service toward others.

As an educator, it’s not my responsibility to transform the lives of my students; it’s theirs. My role as an educator is to facilitate the transfer of the core technology they need to assume a posture of continual transformation – the ability to learn. When people understand how to understand why things work the way they do, then and only then can they create a unique future for themselves and those they have been given the privilege to serve through leadership. If you don’t assume responsibility for understanding generative learning, the best you will ever be able to achieve is mediocrity – competitive parity.

The good news is students are not dependent on me or any other educator to acquire that technology. When students realize that they alone are responsible for learning how to learn, then I and every other educator in the system can assume our rightful roles as one but certainly not the only means to an end that matters. I’m simply a tool; and I think some of my students would agree.

If I don’t assume responsibility for my own continual transformation, then I do my students a disservice by not being as prepared as I should be to partner with them in their transformation process. Yet for the student that has assumed full responsibility for his or herself, my talents as an educator, while they might be a legitimate issue, are never an excuse.

I’m also responsible for doing my part to continually improve the education system, which I believe paradoxically, is incapable of transforming itself. While it’s my responsibility to do what I can, students hold the real key to transformation of the system. Until students become less dependent on and more interdependent with the formal education system, transformation change for both will continue to be elusive.

The educational system must be disrupted for the process of transformational change to begin. That disruption can only come from students, not politicians or administrators. Students must stop colluding with a system that models dependent relationship and step into the fullness of their responsibility to transform themselves, and ultimately every system they choose to partner with, for the benefit of society.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Ten Keys To Real Responsibility

My Advice To New MBA Students

High Expectations Territory

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Comments (7)

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  1. I think that you’ve touched here on an issue here that is top of mind for most people. Did you see this TedEx video, one of the most viewed TedEx videos of all time about how school kills creativity?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    It was that video that inspired this post!! I have my own TEDx talk in mind that builds on what Robinson talked about 🙂 Thanks! Bret

    davidburkus Reply:

    Am I going to have to fly all the way to Reno to see it?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    See what, David? fly all the way to Reno and you will see lots of stuff! Thanks, Bret

  2. Beth says:

    Hi Bret,

    I suspect that transformational change will not happen until two things happen:

    1. Until there is a consumer pushback directed at educators and educational facilities that do not deliver enough true value in return for the cost of tuition.

    2. Until there is an increased insistence that students be given the type of guidance that will inspire them and expect them to take active advantage of such value.

    Regarding the first point, unfortunately we have all been educated with a narrow view of education. We view education as the means to gaining a guaranteed career, and a guaranteed career as a means to gaining money, and money as the means to gaining happiness.

    We are wrong. Education is, as you say, meant to unlock students’ power to learn. And if they do learn how to learn, then that power is the means to lifelong flexibility, ingenuity and resiliency, all of which are the means to not only cope with the world but add value to it… and really, happiness comes not from money, but is the result of adding value to the world.

    Does our wrong view of education mean that we are churning out a generation of inflexible, disingenuous, fragile people who probably know how to argue better than they how to innovate?

    If it looks that way, then I have a suggestion. Let’s find and study the exceptions. You and the other professors of the world can spot them in a heartbeat on the very first day of class — the students who are curious, creative, ethical, industrious, engaged and optimistic. Let’s turn the tables and have the teachers ask these students, “Please teach me how you stayed vigorous, creative and focused in this academic environment.” Then maybe we can compare notes and find out what worked right in their lives.

    I have a strong suspicion that it might involve having someone in their life who loved them enough to both cherish their individuality and enforce their obligation to respect others; to both encourage their freedom and hold them accountable for their actions; to both seek out a suitable environment for their academic growth and hold them responsible for their own growth no matter what the deficiencies of the academic environment they found themselves in.

    Which brings me to the second point I stated above. We have a word for that type of paradoxical influence on a student: it’s called a parent.

    Maybe schools should function less like bureaucratic mills and more like cell phone companies, who have to keep their rates down, keep their quality and service up, and use new technology to innovate so they can present a variety of flexible options that will attract and keep customers.

    And maybe parents should function more like parents.

    And maybe we all should be removing barriers in any way we can and encouraging everyone we can so that all of that can happen wherever it can.

    And maybe, in the end, it’s really all about love.

    Just my thoughts.

    – – Beth

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Hi Beth, another great comment from you. I hope people will click the link by your name and check out YOUR blog! Thanks for sharing! Bret

    Tiffany Brown Reply:

    Such great insights, Beth! Well stated. I enjoyed reading your commentary.