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Personal Responsibility: Is there any other kind?

June 21st, 2010

Sometimes we wish there was. Sometimes we behave as if there is.  The bad news: There isn’t any other kind of effective responsibility other than the personal kind. The good news: It’s your’s, not for the asking, but for the choosing.

Let’s start at the macro level. Even in the situations in which we feel we play no part and have no hand in – e.g., the BP oil spill – if we step back and take a look at whose hand is holding the gas nozzle as we top off our SUVs, we see the part we play.  We see our hand.

I am not saying “Stop driving.” I am saying, rather than mumble “How could THEY be so irresponsible as to not have an effective plan to stop the gusher?” consider mumbling “How can I act responsibly in the part, however small, I play in this situation?”

To say “How can I…?”, each of us must first uncouple responsibility from blame.  Blaming ourselves or others produces right/wrong, winner/loser, either/or responses and quick fixes, not long-term solutions.  When we are willing to consider the possibility that we have some connection to the situation being how it is, we are much less likely to buffer ourselves with blame and more likely to see the bigger picture.

Sometimes we (me, too) wish those people, who did this or that would stop this or that so I could “get my life back”, just as BP CEO Tony Hayward declares in this 14-second YouTube clip:http://tinyurl.com/3ak552n.  Our teeth grind at the dissonance between our expectation of a leader and his words. Yet we fail to hear ourselves when we declare our version of get-my-life-back in this NPR story: http://tinyurl.com/2ehsp95.

NPR Excerpt: “Ed Scharmer is gassing up his truck… He kind of shrugs and admits he’s starting to tune the spill out. “It’s to the point where I don’t want to watch it anymore,” he says. “It’s discouraging. I don’t feel that there’s anything that I can do about it.” But BP wasn’t just tinkering around out there in the Gulf. The company was trying to create a product that we all buy every day. Gas is something we all want — and want cheap. Most of the people I talked to were driving what you’d have to call gas-guzzlers, so I asked whether they feel any personal culpability. “Uh, no,” Carpenter says. When I ask the question, he looks sort of angry.

Let’s move to the micro level, from the environmental stage to your career. Business Week shakes, in a good, WAKE-UP way, our personal responsibility bones with “30 ways to wreck your career.” http://tinyurl.com/23cgud8. Check out #7 and #13. You’ll know why I picked them.

How Leaders Breathe Underwater

March 8th, 2010

Many (many) summers ago, when I was in training to be a lifeguard on New York’s Lake George, the first principle I learned was how to safely approach a swimmer in distress. A safe approach included talking to them, letting them know I was there to help them, and giving them instructions.

The second principle I learned was how to get out of harm’s way if I didn’t successfully execute the first principle. Good to know.  If the victim locked his arms around my neck, my automatic moves were: my right arm over his arms, right hand under right side of his chin, strongly push chin to right as my left hand pushed up on other arm, lower my head, swim down and away. Regroup, approach swimmer again, safely.

Then again, there’s always holding your breath. But, if you’re like me, you can’t do it for long enough for the hangers-on to let go.  The “be caught and released” scenario was my out.  (Fascinated with people who do seeming inhuman feats? David Blaine broke the Guinness world record for breath-holding by staying underwater for 17 minutes and 4 seconds on “The Oprah Winfrey Program.”)

A leader must learn to recognize when they have been put in a headlock by the circumstances and are being pulled under, away from their vision, away from leading.  The leadership moves are:  Put your right hand on your belly and breathe deeply 3 times, with your left hand strongly push your chair from the desk, raise your head, stand up and take 3 steps away from the riptide called your  “not-done” list.

Regroup by answering: What is it I need to do this moment to be most effective? (Prioritize? Remake promises?  Stop doing what is comfortable and do what’s needed? Request support from my colleagues? Call my coach?)  Approach work again, safely, from being centered and focused.  Disengaging from the never-ending riptide of circumstances will help you stay on the surface so you don’t have to learn how to breathe underwater.

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