Most intelligent people are willing to say: “I am responsible. I am accountable.” To say and mean this is the first step. The second step is to add the word “completely”. “I am completely responsible”. This is difficult for most. When something goes wrong we tend to say: “I am responsible but…” Our “but’s” get in the way of assuming complete responsibility. Complete responsibility increases your ability to accomplish goals. Complete responsibility is power. In order to assume complete responsibility we have to kick our “but’s”.
We express good intentions and then negate them with “but”. Examples are: “I want to work well with that employee, but he s a jerk.” “I want to start my business, but my spouse won’t support it.” “I want to help these people, but they are unreasonable.” “I’d like to be more honest, but she won’t listen.” “I’d like to do a high quality job, but management keeps getting in my way.” “I’d get this done on time, but I have too much work to do.”
“But” is the great negator. Whatever words you say in the first part of the sentence are erased by the word “but”. When someone says: “I really want to make this work, but these people won’t cooperate.” –“but” negates “really wanting to make this work.” “Those people won’t cooperate” is the main message. You may as well say it’s over and it’s not going to happen. You have convinced yourself that the reason it isn’t happening is them. You are abdicating responsibility to them by inferring that they should change.
When we externalize reasons for something not working, we deceive ourselves. Our deception is that it’s all them. What impact do I have on this situation? How do I come across to “them”? Have I considered their needs, concerns, and desires? How might I see them and this situation differently? When I blame others I am resistant to their reality. What I resist will persist. Often the best way to keep something going is to be against it.
In my example, I will become completely responsible when I kick my “but”. I change “but” to “and” and “won’t cooperate” to “aren’t buying into my plan at this moment”.
“I really want to make this work, and those people aren’t buying into my plan at this moment.” Instead of condemning them for not agreeing with me, I can be listening to their concerns and reasons. I can become willing to hear another perspective, and to address their concerns. I can become willing to make adjustments based on new data I may not have been aware of previously. Taking into consideration their needs and concerns, I can present my plan, my adjusted plan, or a new plan to them. Having been heard by me, they are now more willing to listen.
To be completely responsible means that I have the ability to respond to the people and the situation. Responding effectively means caring, listening, and taking effective action. In responding I see the needs and concerns of others as valid for them. It is not an issue whether or not I agree with their needs and concerns. It is not an issue whether or not I think they should have those needs and concerns. I cannot influence others from a place of disconnection. I must connect with them by hearing them, caring about them, and understanding them. I may or may not be able to give them what they want. Giving people what they want is always secondary. Giving them what they need is primary. People need to be heard, to be respected, to be treated as important, and to be given honest, straight forward information.
Anger and frustration with the other people is a sign that I am not taking full responsibility. I am sitting on my “but”. I am blaming them for my inability to move forward. As long as I am sitting on my “but”, I have only two options: 1. Continue to struggle and make little or no progress. 2. Use force to get what I want (This may include punitive action, threat, intimidation, manipulation, or violence.)
Force always creates counterforce. There will be consequences. You may feel victorious if others are doing what you think is the right thing to do. The real victory is when they are doing the right thing because they choose to do it. This is influence. This is leadership. This is power through complete responsibility.
The principle of complete responsibility also works in dealing with situations. Example: “We have a great service to offer, but a slow economy is costing us sales.” Instead of limiting ourselves by blaming our decrease in sales on the economy, why not think in terms of possibilities. Why don’t we get off our “but” and look for new, previously not thought of ways to offer our services?
Kicking our “but” causes us to be more thoughtful, more creative, and more powerful. To say and mean, regardless of the situation, “I am completely responsible” makes us possibility thinkers. Imagine a high level management meeting where leaders are eagerly assuming responsibility. Problems are noted, and leaders are motivated to respond, motivated to acknowledge their part in creating or perpetuating the problem. There are no “but’s”. There are no excuses. There is no finger pointing. People are eager to help each other succeed.
You may read my imagined leadership team and say: “Yeah, right. I’d love to work in a place like that, but…” If you are thinking that way, somebody (preferably yourself) needs to kick your “but”. Wherever we work, live or play, we are the creators of whatever is happening right now. Isn’t it time that those of us who call ourselves leaders got off our “but’s” and started leading? The joy of true success comes to those of us who are interested in leading a completely responsible life, and who can envision possible futures. The joy of true success comes to individuals and organizations who are willing to kick their “but’s” and find the greatness that lies within them.