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Keen to take responsibility at work, but don‘t know how?

One of the hardest things we can do as a manager is to really believe in ourselves and the decisions we make as part of our leadership role. It is human nature to second guess ourselves, or to secretly worry about whether we have taken the right decision, said the right thing or are on the right track for our chosen goals. Taking responsibility for our beliefs, ideas and actions can be tough, but in doing so, we become a better manager with heightened authority and, most importantly, increased authenticity.

According to the mBraining approach, developed by Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka in 2012[1], the feelings and motivations around taking responsibility, building resilience and connecting to our business responsibilities on a more emotional level all centre around our heart. mBraining focuses on not just the brain in our heads, but also asserts that we have a brain in our heart and in our gut which, if listened to and followed correctly, can offer us a far more rounded approach to the way we live our lives and conduct ourselves in business.



Taking Heart

mBraining tells us that the brain in our heart is responsible for our compassionate reactions – our emotions and deeper moral values about what is right. When our heart brain works in congruence with the other two brains, all is well. If, however, the brains are not aligned, or working together, this can make us feel conflicted inside, hindered in our decision making and self-sabotaging when it comes to achieving our goals[1]. All impediments when it comes to taking responsibility for our actions and accepting our role in proceedings when things go wrong. We can become so wrapped up in guilt and anxiety that we are unable to properly assess the situation.



Helen Keller once said that, ‘the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor touched but are felt in the heart.’[2] This emphasis on the heart as the part of us that leads the way in our response to stimuli around us is echoed in the stated mBraining sequence of how to align your three brains. In other words, how to tackle a decision, action or idea to ensure that you have fully considered its implications. The sequence is as follows:

Heart >> head >> heart >> gut >> heart

See? The heart is so important that it appears in the sequence three times! It’s no coincidence that the communication mechanisms that we tend to use to engage our hearts in a decision include emotional responses, levels of personal interest in a particular topic, imagery and visualisation, sensory reactions (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) and the quiet inner voice that guides our moral compass. All of which are crucial weapons in our quest to truly take responsibility and build resilience when things don’t go our way.


Holding Others Accountable

When you are put in the position of being directly responsible for an individual, or team of people, you have a duty to them to not only praise them when things go well, but also to hold them accountable and offer constructive criticism when something could have been done better. It isn’t so much what we say to a direct report in either of these circumstances, but how we say it that is important. Just as we ask our heart whether it was our own performance or circumstances beyond our control that played the biggest part in the success of failure of a task, so must we afford other people the same respect. We must avoid the temptation to wade in and start apportioning blame without first having knowledge of the full picture.

We all react differently to different personalities and establish clear opinions on the type of people we feel more at ease with. If we come across someone who we are less keen to converse with, we must work all the harder to establish effective communications. This is part of taking responsibility and using our heart brain to decide what is morally right and how our emotional response can help us formulate an effective method of offering criticism or praise to anyone, anywhere.

Of course, the main thing is to always bear in mind the wellbeing of those who report to you. Awareness of mental health and its effect on how we perform at work is rising – and not before time. Even our best, highest-achievers are at risk of being adversely affected by their own mental health[1]. While we cannot allow such issues to become an excuse for underperforming, we should always bear them in mind when deciding how to open discussions and resolve issues.

Going on ‘the attack’; with someone who is already experiencing anxiety will only make matters worse – and could lead to a total breakdown in relations. Offering praise to someone who is not ‘in the right place’ to receive it is pretty much pointless too, as it will go unnoticed in the maelstrom of emotions already taking over the person’s mind. Higher achievers often ignore any signs of mental stress or discomfort and place their work goals ahead of their own personal wellbeing, denying that anything is wrong. Therefore, it is up to you as their manager to keep an eye out for any warning signs and offer compassion and support as necessary.


Have A Go Yourself…

There is a real power in questioning yourself, so long as it is done constructively and not used as a subconscious opportunity to criticise yourself and feed any self-doubt. Questioning gives your thoughts direction and open up pathways and connections between your neural networks[1]. Getting into the habit of asking yourself a series of positive, constructive questions every day can really help you step up to take responsibility for your actions and decisions, knowing that you have subjected them to interrogation from the harshest critic you can possibly find – yourself.

Find a slot in your schedule when you will not be disturbed and take yourself somewhere quiet. Take a few deep, slow breaths to help you enter a relaxed frame of mind. Start by asking yourself some basic questions around your goal, action or decision. What does each of your brains say about it? Do any of them conflict? Ask your heart if what you are proposing fits in with your deeply-held moral beliefs and sense of right and wrong. Does it sit comfortably with your sense of who you are – and who you want to become? Are you happy to be held accountable for it? If someone else came to you and told you they were contemplating the idea, action or decision that you are thinking about, what wold you think of them?

Be totally honest in your responses – any deception is only harming yourself, as this is a completely personal exercise. If you do find yourself feeling uneasy or anxious about how you are answering a question, stop and think further about why that might be, and how you could change things to fit better with your own sense of self and moral code. Has someone else made a totally different decision to the one that you are contemplating, and how did that work for them? Did they take responsibility for what happened next, and how were they held accountable by others if things did not work out as hoped? Could you live with yourself if the same thing happens to you?

We are not generally used to questioning ourselves in this kind of detail, so the experience may be difficult at first. Persevere, though, and you will find yourself feeling better able to take responsibility for your actions and ideas, and to be genuinely accountable and open to amendment and change when things go wrong.


If you would like to find out more, please contact me to discuss how I can help guide you in this fascinating aspect of leadership in the workplace


[1] mBraining: Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff, pg 332 (paperback)– 25 Apr 2012

[2] https://hbr.org/2018/06/how-are-you-protecting-your-high-performers-from-burnout

[3] mBraining: Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff, pg 60 (paperback)– 25 Apr 2012

[4]  https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Helen_Keller

[5] mBraining: Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff, pg 332 (paperback)– 25 Apr 2012

Post Author: Gayle Young