Responsibility Is A Process

At one of my clients last week, a senior leader shared her quote-of-the-day:

A team is a group of individuals responding successfully to the opportunity presented by a shared responsibility
– Christopher Avery

It was a great quote. And an even better opportunity to re-acquaint myself and others with Christopher Avery’s Responsibility Process.


My first encounter with the Responsibility Process was when I gazed upon a poster of the process taped up against a window in an Agile Competency Centre that I was a member of. It was the same one I’ve included in this blog post and the same one that greets you when you land on Christopher Avery’s website. One of my fellow coaches explained the poster to me. Six words that capture six states that one goes through before they take responsibility for something. Simple on the surface but hard to do. A minute to read, a lifetime to master. It explains why my natural inclination is still to blame my wife first whenever I lose something.

In the words of Christopher Avery,

Many people agree that taking responsibility is the first principle of success. But how do you take responsibility? Taking responsibility and avoiding responsibility is all part of a mental process that can be observed, taught and learned.” Mastering the process will be “the hardest work you will ever do. You will get stuck in the process of getting unstuck

I didn’t think about it or have the opportunity to use it after that first encounter. Even last week when I was reminded of it by the senior leader’s quote-of-the-day, I had no intention to do anything more than share what I remembered with colleagues.
Nothing more that is, until now.

I love my wife. What I’m about to say is corny and she’d probably chastise me if she knew, but I’m going to say it anyways. She’s the perfect ‘yin‘ to my ‘yang‘.  We have plenty of things in common such as our love for the outdoors, playing sports and Greek fries. We’re even both diehard Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fans despite every year for the last fifty-one years, being one year away from winning the Stanley Cup. However, we’re also opposites in many ways. Adding credence to the saying that “opposites attract“. The majority of these ways are complementary.

  • When raising our kids, she was the disciplinarian (“bad cop”) and I was the Disney Dad (“good cop”) that the kids ran to.
  • She’s a type “A” personality and I’m a type “B” personality. Left to my own devices, we’d never go anywhere for vacation and I’d still be driving my 1983 Honda Accord.
  • She reads every newspaper every morning including the editorials. I listen to my favourite all-news radio station to get my sound bites of headlines. My view of world events would be pretty shallow and biased if it weren’t for her.
  • She’s a fantastic artist. I can barely draw stick figures.
  • She’s a feeler, I’m a thinker.

One way we’re opposite that has frustrated me to no end is her penchant for misplacing anything and everything. Whereas I pride myself on knowing exactly where anything and everything is all the time. I follow one simple rule: “Don’t put it down, put it away where you got it from in the first place“. She was very impressed with my rule and the results. It inspired her to create the reminder about her keys that you see in this post’s title image.

The reminder worked for about one week. After that, we were back to her refrain of “Have you seen my car keys?” To which I would respond: “No. Just grab the extra set for now.” Which would be her cue to say: “Um, I used them the last time and I can’t find them either.” You couldn’t have scripted this any better. It’s a dance that drives me crazy. You didn’t need to be a feeler to pick up on the rolling of my eyes.

So with that as background, you can imagine what happens whenever I can’t find something. The voice in my head goes straight to presuming she’s done something with it But of course I can’t say that. So I innocently ask “You wouldn’t have happened to see my favourite t-shirt would you dear?” But the slight accusatory lilt in my voice betrays my intentions. She picks up on it immediately as I try to back peddle. Too late as she launches into a lecture about how I’m so perfect – not!

Christopher Avery advises that “the Responsibility Process is most useful when self-applied”. So here was a great opportunity for me to personally heed that advice.
I’m going to walk you through the mental monologue that ran through my head as I worked through each stage in the process.


Ignoring the existence of something.

  • “I remember folding it and placing it in the laundry basket”
  • “There’s the basket, emptied but no sign of my t-shirt anywhere”
  • “I’ve never misplaced that t-shirt – ever!”

Lay Blame

Holding others at fault for causing something.

  • “She’s always putting away the laundry before I’ve even put the basket down. If she wasn’t always in such a hurry I’d still have my t-shirt”
  • “She must’ve mistaken it for one of her t-shirts and packed it away with her things”
  • “I’ve searched through all her things and no sign of it. Where could she have put it?”
  • “She’s never liked that t-shirt. I wonder if she’s thrown it out just like my Hawaiian shirts?”


Using excuses for things being the way they are.

  • “It’s not the first time she’s done this”
  • “She’s always misplacing her keys, cellphone and glasses. Why would it be any different with my t-shirt?”


Laying blame onto oneself (often felt as guilt).

  • “She does try. That visual reminder about her keys is proof of that.”
  • “By blaming her right away, I’m not giving her a chance to improve.”
  • “Even if she did misplace my t-shirt, she wouldn’t have done it knowingly.”
  • “I’m making her feel worse. I didn’t mean to”


Doing what you have to instead of what you want to.

  • “To keep the peace, I’ll have to apologize for jumping to conclusions.”


Giving up to avoid the pain of Shame and Obligation.

  • “But what if she did do it?Why should I apologize if I’m right!?”
  • “I’ll just let it blow over”


Owning your ability and power to create, choose, and attract.

  • “It’s on me. I should’ve put it away when I had the chance to. I chose not to. So, it’s on me.”

A week later I found my t-shirt. It turns out it had fallen behind a dresser. Was it me or was it her? I’m not going there.

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