When something goes wrong we were trained to ask the question “Who is responsible?”. As a kid we learned to either run and hide when we heard that phrase or respond quickly with “It wasn’t me, it was _____” to save ourselves from punishment. Our parents and teachers worked hard to help us learn to take responsibility rather than run and hide or blame others, but didn’t that usually mean owning up to having done something wrong or taking the blame?
So is it any wonder we still react in similar ways with similar feelings when something isn’t going the way we planned? What about when our boss (or anyone we perceive as having power over us) is unhappy with what’s going on? Perhaps it’s not unlike how we feel when we see a cop in the rear view mirror even if we are not speeding. Somehow we still get that pit in our stomachs!
On the other side of this conversation are those who have actually done harm to us and really are to blame for it. There is not a person alive who has not been victimized in some way small or big in their lifetime. By victimized I mean being harmed by another. We have learned to defend ourselves and perhaps even seek to bring the guilty parties to justice in some way.
WHY DO I SAY “IT’S THEM” IS THE COSTLIEST CONVERSATION IN BUSINESS AND IN LIFE?
Unfortunately over time we have turned the reaction of “it’s them” into a practice of looking for who is to blame whenever the going gets tough. It’s not just a personal practice, it has become a cultural one. And it is costing us all in a big way.
When we ask the question “who is responsible/to blame?” we are talking about the past. We cannot change what happened and spending too time and energy on that conversation is a waste of time unless of course your purpose is to bring someone to justice. And we do waste a lot of time, not to mention energy, in that conversation. Sure it can be helpful to understand what went wrong, what mistakes we made, etc. so we can learn and perhaps prevent the problem from happening again. The key word here is “perhaps” because the complexity of our problems and speed of change today have reduced the value of analysis in many cases. There is a really good reason why the phrase “analysis paralysis” emerged in business conversation. Besides, fixing one problem often just illuminates another one. It’s a never ending cycle that doesn’t necessarily move us forward.
Yet there is a better far more empowering way to relate to the world, to our world, with all of its warts and problems. We can stop asking the question “who is to blame” and start asking the question “what could I/we do now?”. We can start thinking from a context of it is up to me, whatever “it” may be, rather than it is up to them. In doing so we take our focus off of the past we cannot change and put in on the future where we can actually make a difference. We also take our power back as individuals who can make a difference. Big or small, it all matters when it comes to our future.
SO WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH LEADERSHIP?
“It’s up to me” is the fundamental context for leadership. One very simple way to identify possible acts of leadership you could take in any situation is to ask yourself the question “what could I do now to make a difference?” Leaders take personal responsibility for themselves and the world around them.
A key message from President Obama’s Inaugural Address yesterday was taking back responsibility for ourselves and for our country. This is our country and its future is up to us. But whether it is about your country, your company, your work group, your family or even yourself, it has to be even more personal than that for us to act. It must be up to me, the person who I see when I look in the mirror. So this is one case where taking things personally is highly recommended and empowering!
If I told you to go commit a “Random Act of Kindness” today you would likely immediately sense the kind of opportunities to look for. It would be simple and easy. Consider you can do the same thing when it comes to leadership. Committing an “Act of Leadership” can be just as simple as committing an act of kindness. It may take a bit more courage, but I assure you it can be just as satisfying.
YOUR MISSION FOR TODAY… should you choose to accept it is to commit a Random Act of Leadership. And don’t forget to tell us about it so we can all learn and encourage each other to keep going.