By Dr. G Michael Durst

In order to create positive outcomes in your life, you must risk a change in behavior.

Management by Responsibility (is rooted in the premise that the manager’s job is to assist staff members to become fully functioning individuals. This does not mean that corporations need to become social institutions, riddled with self-help programs. The very nature of work, in and of itself, can and should assist people in transforming the quality of their lives. MBR is based on ‘win-win’ thinking: the more employees grow, the more the organization benefits.

The MBR process starts on the day you begin to implement the philosophy. Start with a self-assessment before trying to apply the MBR concepts to your staff. Responsibility is an inside job. 

The manager’s guide to self-management.

Just as you would with any other project you manage, begin your self-assessment by finding out what’s happening. Examine your present behavior-both the positive and the negative aspects-as objectively as possible and then take responsibility for creating the changes you feel are necessary.

Accepting your weaknesses and deficiencies is not easy. Because of sensitivity and a tendency to overreact to negative feedback, everyone has to guard against rationalizations and defensive behaviors which inhibit change.

In addition to self-reflection, avail yourself of as much feedback as possible. Ask for it directly from your staff, spouse, children, and friends. Listen. You may have to ask ‘leading’ questions, since some people may be reluctant to say anything because of your level of authority. Once you have received feedback from several sources, you need to create specific action plans for change. To do so effectively, we recommend you follow the O-M-R Formula:


  • What are your goals?
  • What kind of person do you want to be?
  • What type of manager do you want to become?

Focus on the Outcome and avoid any limitation imposed by the Methods involved (the “M”), or the Resources (the “R”) currently available to you. For example, avoid saying, “I’d like to … but I can’t afford it”, “I don’t have enough time”, “I don’t have the staff”, etc. Focus on Outcome first. In addition, keep asking “Is this an Outcome or is it a Method or a Resource?”.

The Action Plan spells out the methods, and it must be very detailed and realistic. After determining some possible methods of attaining what you want, turn your attention to the resources available:

  • How much time will it take?
  • How much money will be necessary?
  • Do others need to be involved?

Be realistic and honest about your resources. Is it the lack of resources or your use of the available resources that creates the restrictions?

The staff mirrors the manager.

To become effective managers, individuals must change who they are, not just what they do. Changes within the self can and do affect the entire environment. Managers who operate at a particular level tend to have staff that reflects their image. A study by Christopher Argyris concluded, “Subordinates tend to use the same leadership style that their boss tends to use, regardless of the training they receive” ˡ

Changes in the manager will have a profound impact on the workgroup. If managers do not like what they see in their staff members, they should look very closely at their own behavior. To help you get started in this process, descriptions of basic management styles, are reflective of each level below.

The Unconscious Level.

Managers on this level view their staff as trapped and without the power to change their position. As a reflection of their own feelings, they see the situation as fundamentally hopeless and so ‘Manage by Default”. They are concerned neither with productivity nor with the people they supervise. They tend, rather, to withdraw from their staff and avoid becoming involved with issues or policy decisions.

The Self-Protective Level.

Managers on this level view staff members as lazy and incompetent. Because they view productivity and people concerns as mutually exclusive, they think that people do not want to be productive, and therefore feel compelled to use force and coercion to get the job done. They ‘Manage by Dictatorship”. They are so intellectually blinded by their own beliefs that they see no exceptions to their pessimistic view of staff members. This justifies their taking an authoritarian stance.

The Conformist Level.

Managers on this level view staff members as weak and in need of protection from authority. Although they would deny it, conformist managers believe the staff to be incompetent. Because they want to be accepted by others, they rate people's concerns as more important than concerns about productivity. They tend to enjoy rescuing staff members from unrealistic demands. Because they find change to be risky, they ‘Manage by Status Quo”.

The Achievement Level.

Managers on this level view their staff as moderately and occasionally productive, but think they need to be manipulated to increase productivity. These managers see a conflict between productivity and people concerns. They emphasize results, sometimes at the expense of people's concerns. Due to a lack of planning and delegation, they tend to ‘Manage by Crisis; This syndrome reinforces their reactive approach and their constant impatience.

The Responsible Level.

Managers on this level view their staff as productive and creative. They see no conflict between productivity and people concerns. They realize that staff members need to be productive to feel a sense of worth and to have high self-esteem. Their management style is based on involving the staff and so they ‘Manage by Development. They look for ways to maximize staff involvement and participation by delegating decision-making, authority, and accountability.

Outside factors must also be acknowledged in assessing your management style. The organizational climate itself may determine at what level a manager can appropriately operate. Factors within a situation, such as time constraints and emergency issues, may temporarily override other considerations. The level of maturity of staff members also has a strong impact on managerial style. At the Responsible Level, however, managers can choose to adopt a particular approach, in a way that is appropriate for dealing with a person at a given level of maturity, yet they adapt to the situation when conditions change, or the staff member matures.

At what level do you perceive yourself operating most of the time? This gives you a choice: do you want to change or not? If so, write your Outcome statement in a positive fashion. For example, rather than stating, “I want to stop avoiding conflict situations,”, say “I will use conflict situations to create positive results for all concerned”.

In order to create these outcomes in your life, you must risk a change in behavior. This will mean overcoming doubts and fears and rising above your reluctance to experience discomfort. It will mean examining behaviors and attitudes to determine which ones contribute to your success and satisfaction and which ones don’t. Only after you have applied these concepts to yourself can you work effectively to help your staff members. Remember: Responsibility is an inside job and it starts with you!

 ˡ Christopher Argyris, Personality and Organization (New York, 1057). p. 99

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Dr. G Michael Durst is the founder and president of the Responsible Life Foundation. He has presented training and development programs for the American Management Association, International Training System, The National Association of State Trainers, and the American Society for Training and Development. Durst, who holds a doctorate from Loyola University, Chicago, has written several articles and books, including “Management by Responsibility”
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