Leading Ethically Only is an educational outreach of Leadership Ethics Online (LEO). Essays range widely--from ethical analysis of the news, to ethical challenges to leaders in society, to personal reflections of an ethical nature. We welcome your thoughts and criticisms to make us better.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Accepting Personal Responsibility--a Fundamental for Leaders

We cannot make progress as leaders if we cannot accept personal responsibility.  What does "being a leader" mean, except that others are willing to follow your example and direction?  Who wants to follow a person who refuses to accept responsibility?

Work and Personal Responsibility

One of my personal traits is that I view my work as a personal extension of myself.  My work actually is part of me. Therefore, I work diligently, give all I have to the task, seek to produce the best, work to correct errors and flaws, and always are trying to improve what I do.  Why?  When I am finished, when the work is done, I want to look back on what I produced and be proud of how I used that percentage of my life used to create those work products.

Of course, when the work goes well, when what I do produces desired outcomes, then I am very pleased and proud.  I say, "I did that."  But when the work goes not very well, or when I find I did something wrong, or there was a flaw throughout the process affecting the outcome, I am not pleased.  It is part of my character that, when the latter happens, I must say, "I am responsible for that mistake.  I wish I could have seen that sooner.  I regret that, and will correct it."

Honesty and Personal Responsibility

Abraham Maslow taught that honesty and seeking facts was one trait of psychologically mature and healthy people.  Based on what we are seeing today--and in fact what we have seen for many decades--is there are many leaders in the United States who are neither psychologically mature nor healthy.  "Blame" and "avoidance" and "excuses" and "self-deception" are quite common among all kinds of leaders.

You cannot be a leader and engage in displacement of blame in areas of life and work you control.  We will become, or probably already are, neurotic, if we allow others to blame us for their areas of life.  On the other hand, until we are honest with ourselves, until we take an honest look at ourselves, until we honestly examine what we are doing in our relationships and workplace, we are destined to the slavery of self-deception, evasion, and escapist rationalizations.

Happiness and Personal Responsibility

You know you want to be a happy person.  You want to be a successful person.  You want to be a person loved by at least your family, if not others.  You will be on the first step to consistent happiness when you are honest with yourself.  This will enable you to see what is true, then begin to change yourself and your work to become better.  This is part of being "successful":  participating honestly in every day of life.  More than that, you will be admired, you will be loved, by other people who WANT to do these same things themselves.

Do not be afraid to look at areas where you have shown you are merely human, and fallible.  Do not be afraid to admit flaws and failures in yourself or your work.  In fact, when you embrace the truth of the facts as YOU have created them, or helped create them in a team environment, there is a great feeling of release and freedom.  None of us want to lie to ourselves, nor to others.  All of us want to be honest, and we truly respect people who speak the truth, who are willing to admit mistakes, in fact, who are willing to say, "I am sorry.  I am responsible for that."

We All Are Liars...At Times

You probably can think of certain times when you have lied to yourself, or to others, regarding your life and work.  Maybe your motivation was fear, self-preservation, avoidance of consequences.  You know how badly you felt.  You willingly put on "handcuffs" of disappointment in yourself.  You felt lessened as a person.  Unfortunately, some people learn early to be false to themselves and others, and this becomes a life habit.

Accepting personal responsibility is key to any change.  Accepting personal responsibility is key to the motivation to change.  We cannot improve, we cannot change, if we lie to ourselves or others.  The organization, Alcholics Anonymous, is partly successful because members must take a first step to admit they are alcoholics.  Without that first step in looking at themselves, in accepting the truth about themselves, they cannot move forward.

Personal Responsibility:  Start Today

Think about today's subject--personal responsibility--and be honest with yourself about your personal history.  That will be your first step in personal responsibility:  willingly and honestly looking at what you have done, or not done, in life and work.  Then, after you have taken that look, make the intentional, willful decision to change, incrementally, to do better, to do your best.

There is a saying, "Inch by inch, life's a cinch."  How about another?  I found this to be of great help when I had writer's block one time.  "Page by page, great books are written."  The point of both sayings--and there are thousands like them--is we must begin with small things to finish greater goals.  Of course, there is so much wisdom in these pithy words my summary just now does NOT exhaust their truths.

In connection with personal responsibility, these sayings are quoted to incite you to begin today.  Be honest.  Take that full and, perhaps, hard look at the facts and truth.  Embrace it, and be one of the few, the strong, who are emotionally mature, who refuse to be liars to themselves or others.  THEN, take one step today, then again tomorrow, in accepting personal responsibility for all you do.

Know what will happen?  Your life and work will "just happen" to get better and better and better.  And you, my friend, will become a happier person, and a more effective leader.  By the way, a final word before I close.  Once you get free--once you get those "handcuffs" off--do not be proud, do not judge others.  Help them get free through encouragement, and your example.

They will admire, follow, and even love that kind of leader:  the person who takes personal responsibility to use valuable time only for good things, not harmful or negative!

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