Being Responsible

The Earth disaster. Global warming conceptual

In our democracy, we rarely expect our politicians to be truthful. Whatever the societal challenge of the day, we vote for the politician and the party with the best promise of salvation. As the inevitable failure to deliver on those promises arrives, we express faux outrage at the shock of it, but generally accept the excuses and the deflection of blame.

Rinse and repeat over generations and what do we have? A culture of blame and creeping collectivism and patronizing smiles from the political class at the notion of personal responsibility.

I have worked in organisations like this. Where the leadership ranks are political and play the game of pointing blame and deflecting responsibility, vying to be the lapdog of the narcissist at the top. These cultures, whether in organisations or government, are inherently unstable. People who take responsibility are not rewarded and eventually leave, like foundational blocks being pulled from a Jenga tower.

Reflexively, we blame our leaders and politicians for this cultural malaise and the breakdown of trust. But we have trained our leaders to be this way and they continue to be rewarded by us for this way of being.

We are responsible for the culture that we live in.

Being responsible for your own actions and outcomes can be tough, but in my experience, it is infinitely better than blame or denial. To this day, I still feel shame when I remember childhood experiences of lying, despite being caught in an act of mischief. When I reflect, it is never the act of mischief itself, but rather the lying and denial of responsibility that causes me grief.

Whether I’m acting as an investor or a coach, knowing how people deal with their mistakes is important. Do they take ownership and embrace the learnings, or do they deflect and blame? Having seen plenty of both over my working life, personal responsibility as an inculcated value, is a core ingredient for enduring business success. Blame repels good people and good business outcomes.

How do we shift the culture to value personal responsibility?

Start by looking inward. When you feel the urge to blame others, look within and recognize your part in the situation. Be careful not to conflate blame with responsibility here. It is easy to shift blame on to yourself and that is not helpful.

Ask those closest to you to hold you to account. Give then permission to hold your feet to the fire when you are tempted to deflect responsibility. You may wish to change others, but only through your lived example will shifts occur around you.

Blame and victimhood are often bedfellows. Always bring empathy, but don’t allow sympathy to enable the absolving of personal responsibility.

To make our culture strong, we each need to take responsibility for our part in it. Paradoxically, this builds trust and brings us together. Blame and denial push us apart. 

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