The control/responsibility matrix

Alert readers of my last two posts have probably guessed what this one is about.

The control/responsibility matrix (click to enlarge)

People make choices about their preferences for control and for taking responsibility. When we combine those choices, we end up with a simple matrix.

In the top right is an ideal combination. Someone with control and authority who also takes responsibility when things go wrong. This creates a useful feedback loop, because they can actually do something about the problems they caused.

In the bottom right is a disaster waiting to happen. This is brittle megalomaniac, Robert Moses, the builder, who spent nearly a century paving New York while neglecting housing and other social justice issues, but never took responsibility for any of the effects of his work. People who grab control and avoid responsibility are often easily identified because they spend a lot of time whining.

In the top left corner is someone who truly cares. They bring huge empathy to the situation, and they help people feel seen. Alas, because they don’t have power (either because it’s been denied to them or because they avoid it), their willingness to take responsibility is sort of hollow. This is one reason that frontline workers that are required to exert emotional labor and empathy on the job so often burn out.

And finally, in most situations, most people are in the bottom left. The system pushes us to be cogs, to accept what’s given in exchange for being let off the hook and not being held responsible for what happens next.

In many situations, we have the freedom to choose. We can choose a quadrant or we can choose not to participate. And if we’re lucky or care enough, we can choose who to vote for, who to work for and where we’re headed.

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