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Responsibility is the most powerful internal motivator for problem solving. When
you remove it, all that remains is the lesser drive of self-preservation. If necessity is
the mother of invention then responsibility is its father. (Mark A. Crouch)i

In recent years, a main trend in business has been responsibility. Large scale movements,

such as the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) phenomenon have been determining public

perception and, in turn, the success or demise of organizations worldwide. Companies are now

taking responsibility for their actions and are feeling more accountable than ever. An example of

such a company is Nike, whose CSR department released a report in April 2005 disclosing the

names and locations of the hundreds of factories worldwide that produce its products; this was

the first such report ever disclosed by a major shoe and apparel company (Nolan, 2005)ii. Others

who continue to avoid responsibility and are not perceived as responsible, are quickly being

targeted for reprimand by activist groups, regulatory bodies, other organizations, and

stakeholders. The result is lower efficiency and dwindling profits.

If not for the sake of upholding certain codes of conduct, the responsibility trend is a

strategic move intended to improve public perception and support. Thus, responsible

organizations in every sector, and leaders who are perceived as responsible, are favored among

stakeholders (subordinates, customers, and constituents).

CSR, for example, has been shown to contribute to organizational effectiveness, in terms

of employees (who make a greater contribution to their company if they perceive it as more

responsible, take less sick days, and remain with the company longer) and customers (customer

loyalty is correlated positively with employee satisfaction)iii.

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
“Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to
let him know that you trust him.” (Booker T. Washington)

If added responsibility has been proven to increase effectiveness at the organizational

level, and if organizations endorsing this concept are beginning to reap its benefits, why should it

not be applied within the organization, at the personal level? The Responsibility-Effectiveness

Model (the R-E Model) shows how increasing the responsibility of a subordinate working in a

group can lead to increased effectiveness, in a perpetual cycle influenced by the leader.

This paper begins by defining key terms, including responsibility and my conception of

leadership. Next, it explains the leadership-related phenomenon of interest, responsibility. Later,

it moves into the specifics of the R-E Model, making certain hypotheses about relationships

among variables. Some of these hypotheses have not been tested, while other relationships are

supported by research. During each step in the model, certain obstacles are recognized and

discussed, as seen in Figure 1. Finally, several examples are provided, in which the R-E Model

may have helped improve outcomes.


Responsibility can be interpreted in many ways, according to the context in which it is

used. Some use it as a term with which to assign blame (i.e. being responsible for delaying

traffic). Others define it as a person’s job or duty (i.e. a factory worker’s responsibility for

sealing boxes). To others, being responsible means being trustworthy and dependable (using

responsibility as a descriptive adjective). At times, responsibility can be thought of as the

immediate, short-term task at hand (i.e. to ensure the survival of a team of mountaineers).

Finally, assigning responsibility can be a way of assigning liability (i.e. “Who can be sued?”).

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
Obviously, the concept of responsibility is an integral part of leadership. No matter what

style of leadership and decision-making is used, in almost every conceivable case, it is the leader

who is held responsible for group outcomes. Leadership, here, is the leader-followers interaction

in which the leader influences others in the pursuit of a common mission, in a given situation.

The success of the outcome depends on each follower’s individual contribution and on the

leader’s ability to meet the followers’ needs and guide them through the process.

“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence

of submission to authority.” (Stanley Milgram)

Much of the responsibility research has focused on the tendency of followers to avoid it

(Avoidance of Responsibility research). For several possible reasons, people who are not “in

charge” of the outcome would rather not be responsible for it. Mainly in low context situations,

this aversion to responsibility may be due to a fear of the unknown (or, a lack of established

means by which to reach the desired end) and of failure. In these cases, as in crises, it seems

natural that group members would prefer a strong leader who is willing and able to take

responsibility for the group and reduce the ambiguity felt by group members.

In the R-E Model, responsibility is something bestowed upon the follower which, with

the appropriate guidance, may lead to increased effectiveness and improved outcomes (as

related to the task and to follower self-efficacy). Here, the term refers to the follower’s ability

(and requirement) to take on her section of the overall mission and to influence group outcomes.

It follows, then, that the mission, as well as each follower’s individual contribution to that

mission, should be clearly defined.

Throughout this paper, the terms leader, follower, and subordinate are used frequently.

The leader here is the person who wishes to facilitate the positive change (the increased

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
effectiveness and self-efficacy) in those she is leading. Hopefully, the current reader is, or has

access to, such a leader for whom this model may be of use.

Though distinctions exist between followers and subordinates, the two terms are used

interchangeably. They are intended to signify the person (or group) in whom the leader whishes

to affect change. These are the members of the group whose effectiveness may be increased by

an increase in responsibility, as detailed below.


The Responsibility-Effectiveness Model (REM) of Leadership concentrates on the

process by which increased responsibility, bestowed upon a subordinate, can (if certain obstacles

are avoided) begin a circular process, a product of which is increased effectiveness. The model,

then, is a leadership tool that is concerned mainly with followers’ perceptions (or, affects) but

also with their cognition and behavior, as influenced by the leader.

The model has six ordinal stages of progress (which are causally related): responsibility,

accountability, perception (or, a sense of ownership), commitment, effectiveness, and

motivation. Each stage is accompanied by a potential obstacle that may halt the follower’s

progress. Each obstacle can be the result of numerous situations, most of which can be avoided

by reframing the follower’s thought processes and by organizational readiness. Essentially, the

leader’s actions involve:

1. Initially bestowing and increasing the subordinate’s responsibility

2. Helping the subordinate overcome (not avoid) the obstacles

3. Monitoring follower progress, making changes for the future, as needed

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
It is worth making two distinctions before proceeding. First, this model is discrete and

should not be communicated to the follower before or during the process.1 This is by no means a

secretive model; however, as mentioned, it deals with follower perception, which may be altered

if the leader’s intent to use it is disclosed. In some cases, leader-follower relations may be open

enough to acknowledge a need to improve effectiveness and to openly discuss the process.

Second, this model is not a magic pill. Any process that involves changing people’s feelings,

thoughts, and behaviors, takes time. How much time is needed should be proportionate to the

amount of effort needed to overcome the obstacles, depending on the follower and the situation.

Before explaining the process of the R-E Model, it will help to have a clear definition of

each of the stages involved and their relationship in the model. Especially important is the

distinction between responsibility and accountability.

Follower Responsibility

As mentioned above, the R-E Model refers solely to the responsibility bestowed upon the

follower, not the responsibility of the leader. Thus, responsibility here is the degree to which a

group member can, and is expected to, influence the overall outcome, given her resources to do

so. These resources are allocated by the leader. Using another term, responsibility can be

described as the degree of freedom the group member has to influence the outcome, using her


The above definition has several premises. First, the amount of responsibility a group

member possesses can be altered by the leader. Second, beyond the mere ability to affect the

outcome, responsibility includes an expectance to do so positively. Third, the degree of

It may not be beneficial, for example, for Mrs. Smith to tell an employee that she plans to make him more effective
by changing his perception and increasing his commitment.

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
responsibility is also directly related to the follower’s access to resources (such as time, funds,

knowledge, manpower, support, and so on), which is determined by the leader.2

Follower Accountability

The term accountability is often used interchangeably with both responsibility and

liability. Hence, it is usually used to describe negative responsibility which both followers and

leaders seek to avoid.3 Also, if the result is a success, group members claim greater

responsibility (Forsyth and Norvell, 1984)iv. However, if the result is a failure, group members

hold other factors accountable.

Here, the term accountability is not taken to mean legal liability. After all, most

organizations do not hold one employee or manager liable for any single outcome. Instead,

accountability here is something to be perceived. The model aims to increase a subordinate’s

perception of accountability. Causing the subordinate to feel accountable is hypothesized to

cause a perceptual shift, in which she feels a sense of ownership of the task at hand.

Follower Perception

Perception in the R-E Model is the way in which a follower sees her contribution to the

overall mission. A sense of ownership refers to the follower’s acceptance of the responsibility as

hers and the ensuing desire to succeed.

Follower Commitment

Commitment, like responsibility, does not refer to legal obligation, such as signing a

contract. Instead, commitment is a mental state; it is the degree to which the follower feels loyal

For example, while the leader cannot prevent the group member from learning, access to certain pertinent
information may be withheld.
For instance, one can make the distinction between a professor wanting to feel responsible for the success of a
student, but not liable if, say, the student applied the knowledge gained in an illegal way.

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
to the group and bound to its outcome. Instead of legal obligation, true commitment may cause

the follower to feel an obligation and desire to contribute; it is devotion to the group’s mission.

Follower Effectiveness

Follower effectiveness is the only term that is not narrowly defined; it can be defined in

many ways and is contingent on the group’s goals. Thus, effectiveness should be determined by

the organization. It should be noted that expectations should not be set too high, initially. Again,

the R-E Modal is not a magic pill. If the model is applied correctly and the expectations are

consistent, follower effectiveness should increase over time. Before attempting to implement the

model, the leader should clearly define “success” to the group. With a specific outcome in mind,

each member will have a target to aim for and will be able to gauge her own progress.

Follower Motivation

Follower motivation is an important step in the model, and constitutes a link to future

success, as explained below. The term simply refers to the follower’s enthusiasm which can be

increased and can have other positive effects.


We now describe step in the R-E Model, making certain hypotheses about the

relationships between steps. We also discuss the obstacles associated with each step, offering

possible reasons for failure to advance, and suggesting actions the leader may take to avoid

succumbing to each obstacle.

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
Step 1: Follower Responsibility

This step sets the tone for the entire process and should not be taken lightly. The leader

must carefully consider the amount and type of responsibility to bestow upon the subordinate.

The first obstacle, then, is assigning either too much or too little responsibility, as well as

assigning the wrong type of responsibility. Too much responsibility can overwhelm the follower,

increasing work-related stress and leading to failure. (Krupat, 1973)v Too little responsibility

may cause the follower to mentally dismiss the task or, worse, to feel resentment toward an

“untrusting” leader. Assigning the right type of responsibility should not be difficult, as the

leader should have a conception of the follower’s areas of knowledge and expertise. This will not

be the case if the follower or the leader is new to the organization. In these instances, the R-E

Model may not be appropriate.

Once responsibility is increased, it can either be “taken on” or dismissed by the follower.

This may be due to responsibility aversion, a fear of failure, or relying on other members, also

known as diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility occurs when individual

perceptions of responsibility decrease as the group size increases. (Darley and Latané, 1968)vi

While the R-E Model addresses individual leader-follower relations, the follower is part of a

group. If the group is too large, a follower may feel less responsible. Indeed, it has been shown

that people who feel that another group member is the leader take less responsibility for the

group’s performance than did those who did not assign a leader. (Forsyth, Zyzniewski, and

Giammanco, 2000)vii In theory, two possible solutions to this would be assigning smaller,

autonomous groups (see Self-Managed Groups, below) and explaining that each member has her

own responsibility, which is separate from everyone else’s. Also, it may help to assign leaderless

groups, where the actual leader serves as a coach or advisor.

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
Step 2: Follower Accountability

Once responsibility has been accepted, the follower should begin to feel accountable for

her portion of the overall mission. As mentioned, this is the perceptual side of responsibility. A

feeling of accountability is not something a leader can directly create. If accountability is not

perceived, the follower will not advance to the next step of the process. However, if the leader

correctly aligns the follower’s mental models pertaining to her responsibility (i.e. framing her

perceptions), a perceptual shift may occur, causing the follower to feel ownership of her task. As

shown in Figure 1, there may be a weaker, negative relationship between accountability and

effectiveness. That is, a sense of follower accountability may actually produce a negative result.

If the follower’s aversion to responsibility or fear of failure is high, the result may be

ineffectiveness. Thus, the leader should gauge the follower’s feelings toward responsibility,

ambitions, and motivations, before attempting to apply the model.

As the model shows, accountability can either be perceived or not. There are a number of

leader-related factors that may cause the follower not to feel accountable. Since this step

involves shaping follower perception, the leader can still “make or break” this process. The

follower may simply not believe she is truly accountable. Other group members may believe that

the new process allows the leader to “delegate liability”. Also, the leader may have performed

poorly in the past, causing the follower to doubt her sincerity. Finally, the leader may not be

adept at reframing follower perceptions.

Steps 1 and 2 should phase out group members who may not be suitable to benefit from

the R-E Model. Once step 3 is reached, however, the retention level should increase. Followers

who reach this step tend to have fewer aversions to responsibility and are willing to take on

(perceived) personal liability.

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
Step 3: Follower Ownership

In this step, the follower has accepted responsibility, feels personally accountable for her

actions, and begins to feel a sense of pride and purpose in (or, ownership of) her work. A

person’s ownership of an idea (in this case, that the responsibility is one’s own) causes it to be

included in one’s self-concept (De Dreu et al., 2005)viii and may also be associated directly with

an increase in follower motivation, as seen in Figure 1.

The feeling of ownership can vary. Low feelings of ownership may be the result of

follower apathy, skepticism, or low identification with the organization and its goals. Apathy, or

indifference, may be felt if the follower does not care or does not see the higher purpose of the

outcome. This too may be the result of improper framing or ineffective communication of the

organization’s vision. Skepticism can be either a personality trait or the result of negative past

experiences.4 Finally, the follower may simply not identify with the organization’s values or may

not have long-term plans to stay with the organization.

One final link between a sense of ownership and that of accountability is worth

mentioning. It has been shown that control-based thinking (as opposed to freedom-based

thinking) can cause a reduction in group member accountability “by destroying people’s sense of

ownership of their jobs.” (Buono, 2003)ix In essence, the accountability-ownership relationship

may be two-way. That is, each can affect the other. This is one reason why the leader’s role must

be supportive and allow creative thinking.

For example, if the follower has witnessed similar processes fail or is generally a skeptical person, her perception
of ownership may be low.
© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
Step 4: Follower Commitment

Follower commitment is the direct result of a high sense of personal ownership. Here,

the follower already perceives her responsibility as hers and becomes committed, even devoted,

to a successful outcome. This commitment brings with it openness to feedback. Indeed, leader

support has been found to increase motivation to learn (such as the learning that occurs with

feedback). (Green, 2002)x Here, the leader should meet with the follower, as a consultant or a

coach, to review her progress and make suggestions for improvement. After receiving feedback,

the follower may accept and implement the feedback, increasing her level of commitment to the


Similar to Hersey and Blanchard’s Life Cycle Theory of Leadership® (1969)xi, the

follower here is at the third development level (high competence and variable commitment).

Decreased commitment may be cause by follower disappointment in progress, feedback, or lack

of positive reinforcement. In each case, the leader can influence the follower’s commitment by

being supportive.

Step 5: Follower Effectiveness

Follower effectiveness is reached once follower commitment is increased and feedback

has been given and implemented. Increased effectiveness will have been achieved and the

follower will be deserving of credit and acknowledgement. Regarding credit, increased follower

effectiveness (as seen in Figure 1) may be causally related to increased ownership, as the

follower expects to receive full credit for her efforts.

If the R-E Model is used for a single project, on a one-time basis, there is no need to

continue to the next step. In this case, increased follower effectiveness is only needed for the task

at hand. However, leaders cannot expect system-wide improvements after a single trial. The
© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
model will likely be more useful if applied to ongoing projects and processes, in which followers

have the opportunity to improve in the long run.

Unchanged or decreased effectiveness, after an increase in follower commitment, may be

the result of ineffective learning or teaching. Ineffective learning may be due to the follower’s

cognitive abilities, which are not conducive to coping with a significant change in operations (i.e.

increased responsibility). In this case, the leader may choose to persist and try implementing the

model again, this time at a slower pace, allowing the follower to adapt. Ineffective teaching may

be due to the leader’s lacking cognitive abilities or her misunderstanding of the model or desired

outcome. In this case, the leader may not be well-suited to implement the model. Unsurprisingly,

members of groups that fail assign less responsibility to themselves, to the average group

member, and to the group as a whole, than do members of successful groups (Forsyth and

Schlenker, 1977)xii. Hence, if the leader’s goal is for individual followers to take on more

responsibility in the future, she should consider the group’s perceived success as a priority.

Step 6: Follower Motivation

Motivation may also be caused by follower perception of ownership. It may also directly

cause an increase in commitment (see Figure 1). Finally motivation may also be unchanged or

decreased after effectiveness has increased. This may be due to personality traits or

dissatisfaction. Personality traits like depression or general pessimism may be hard to change.5

Dissatisfaction may be felt if a follower, having become more effective, does not feel better or is

not acknowledged or given a promised reward. In this case, it is the leader’s responsibility to

communicate specific rewards to be received upon achievement of a specific outcome.

Note that depression may be temporary.
© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
In this sense, the R-E Model contains aspects of both transactional leadership and

transformational leadership. Clearly defined rewards, as motivators, are typical of a temporary,

transactional leadership relationship (Bass, 1990).xiii It should be noted that the symbolic

properties of rewards have been found to increase intrinsic motivation. (Harackiewicz and

Sansone, 2000)xiv Mobilizing followers (in a setting conducive to creating leaders) and driving

organizational change are associated with transformational leadership (Bass, 1990).

As mentioned above, this step of the R-E Model constitutes the link to future success and

the perpetuation of the cycle. First, the link between effectiveness and motivation is

hypothesized to be two-way, in that each can cause the other.6 Second, motivation is also

hypothesized to cause an increase in follower acceptance of responsibility. Once the cycle has

been completed successfully by the follower, satisfaction should cause an increase in self-

efficacy, and the follower should believe that she can positively influence the organization. Here,

leaders may notice followers with leadership potential.

Another opportunity here is identifying followers who are well-suited, as a result of the

process, to be part of a self-managed team (SMT). Flory (2005) defines the self managed team as

…highly proactive and independent relative to other non self-managing teams…

These teams consist of a relatively small number of people with complementary
skills, who are given the responsibility, to organize their own resources and
approaches… within reasonable boundaries set by the organization. They are
committed to a common purpose, performance, goals and approaches for which they
hold themselves mutually accountable.xv

Note the likeness between SMT’s and the workings of our Model. SMT’s are considered the

fundamental units in today’s organizations, a place conducive to major learning. Managers see

SMT’s as drivers of organizational change and increased efficiency. (Senge, 1990)xvi

See the blue two-sided arrow in the model below.
© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond

While the model is geared towards improvement and explained in terms of a positive

outcome, it is reasonable to assume that lowered responsibility can create a parallel process with

negative outcomes. See Trout’s (1997) comment on disengaged college students:

[T]hey do not read the assigned books, they avoid participating in class discussions,
they expect high grades for mediocre work, they ask for fewer assignments, they
resent attendance requirements, they complain about workloads, they do not like
“tough” or demanding professors, they do not adequately prepare for class and tests,
they skip opportunities to improve their class performance and grade, they are
impatient with deliberative analysis, they regard intellectual pursuits as “boring,” they
resent the intrusion of course requirements on their time, they are apathetic or
defeatist in the face of challenge, and they are largely indifferent to “anything
resembling an intellectual life.”xvii
This insight aligns with our model. Because students are not given full responsibility for

their own success, they do not feel accountability. This in turn causes them to have little, if any,

perceived ownership of their own success, expecting professors to be easy and not enforce

attendance requirements. In turn, students do not become committed to their studies and tend to

avoid an “extra work”, minimizing the amount of time spent on course work. This lack of

commitment causes poor study habits and mediocre performance in class. Lower performance

may cause students to think that the demands of professors are too high, possibly resulting in

resentment and other negative feelings associated with a lack of motivation. Low motivation may

perpetuate lower academic performance, as well as further disdain for responsibility.

The R-E Model of Leadership is in some ways similar to House’s (1974)xviii Path-Goal

theory, in that the leader should affect “the followers’ beliefs that if they exert a certain level of

effort [or commitment, as a result of the increased responsibility and sense of accountability],

they will be more likely to accomplish a task [with increased effectiveness], and if they

accomplish the task, then they will be even more likely to achieve some valued outcome [such as

increased responsibility in the future]”.xix (Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy, 2006)

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond

The Responsibility-Effectiveness Model of Leadership has partial empirical evidence,

supporting its theory that increased follower responsibility and competent leadership support can

lead to increased follower effectiveness, which in turn can help the organization create motivated

leaders who do not fear responsibility. More research is needed to prove or disprove some of the

hypotheses made. The model does, however, make intuitive sense and several of its claims have

been supported. Whatever a leader’s actions, almost anything is better that inaction. If positive

change is desired, it must be pursued; mistakes can be leaned from, but inaction will teach us

nothing. I believe Ching put it best when he said:

Everything proceeds as if of its own accord, and this can all too
easily tempt us to relax and let things take their course without
troubling over details. Such indifference is the root of all evil.

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond
Figure 1: The Responsibility-Effectiveness Model of Leadership™

© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond

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© 2005, Jesse Kedy Theories & Models of Leadership University of Richmond