Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to address the effects of a unique leadership programme, four years after its delivery: in a Dutch penitentiary organisation. This intervention was initiated because of a felt lack of safety in an organisation that was characterised by steep hierarchy, forceful authority, constant employee cynicism and indifference. The focus of the intervention lies on actually assuming responsibility and producing the intended, strategically relevant results. Design/methodology/approach – First we sketch Hoebeke's ideas on “responsibility in one's own work system” (Hoebeke, 2004). We show how these ideas are related to the leadership programme. Next we illustrate the programme's effect with quotes from three in-depth group interviews with the penitentiary's governor, unit manager, four department heads and six employees. Findings – The interviews show that acting responsibly has become a living concept in the sense that is now being explicitly used among employees in all layers of the organisation. Employees and managers have learned to translate responsibility into concrete and relevant results. A new strategy for the continuity of the organisation has been co-created with all management levels and the Workers Council and it has been implemented successfully. The intervention also defeated the cynicism and lack of integrity in the organisation. Originality/value – This case shows that being trained in the ability “to be present with reality” and actually assuming responsibility for the relationship between one's own “way of being” and the results one produces had a lasting, positive impact on an organisation and its people.