Leadership: Taking Responsibility for Our Choices

I had dinner recently with my close friend, Sarah. She is a mid-level manager at a large technology firm. She is not happy at work, and she lamented her work situation during our meal. If “R & D” were smarter, she would be happy. If Sales would listen to her, she would be happy. If Management would connect to what is going on in the firm, she would be happy. If she did not have to commute every day for an hour each way, she would be happy.

The following day I had a similar conversation with a client. Janet is the CEO of a sizeable corporation. It is her team’s fault that she is overworked. Because of their incompetence, Janet is so busy that she has little time to spend with her family. She is out of shape because her workload leaves no time for exercise. If her team were better, the organization would be more profitable. Then the board would not come down so hard on Janet.

It happens to all of us. We realize that things at work or in some aspect of our personal lives are not going the way we want them to go. Deftly we find other people or outside circumstances to blame for our dissatisfaction. Thus, we avoid taking responsibility for personal choices that perpetuate the problems we face.

Shifting blame for our problems away from ourselves eliminates our need to take charge of our own lives. By blaming other circumstances or other people for our problems, we avoid taking responsibility in our jobs, in our families or in our communities. We abdicate leadership. We give our power away to the people or the organizations around us. Then we become frustrated when the results we want are not forthcoming. Having stepped out of leadership, though, we are powerless to make effective changes toward our goals.

We regain our power to affect change when we recognize that our choices, whether conscious or unconscious, and our actions create the circumstances around us. Although we will have to face the fears that come with change, it will be in recognizing that we have options that we will become empowered again. We will reclaim leadership.

Sarah can continue to be angry and dissatisfied with her work situation or she can choose to do something positive about it. Janet can choose to be frustrated because her team is not performing to her expectations or she can take action and change the team’s performance for the better. Each woman needs to choose. Either she is going to stand on the sidelines and be a victim or she is going to step up, claim responsibility and be a true leader.

It is not always easy to take responsibility for our choices and our behavior. Many times, in fact, it is quite difficult. As we reclaim accountability, though, we realize that we are capable of being effective leaders. We become the authors of own stories. We create our own destinies. This is the heart of what it means to be a leader.

• In what area of your life do you abdicate responsibility?

• What does it feel like?

• What choices do you avoid making?

• What actions do you need to take?