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Personal Responsibility 101


Thu May 25 2017

Personal Responsibility 101

Consider the following factors that workers commonly list when asked to brainstorm issues that get in their way at work: 

  • resource constraints— insufficient information, people, material, or tools

  • limited time—too much work, co-workers not doing their part, constant change,

  • company policies, rules, regulations, and procedures

  • complacency—“that’s the way things have always been done around here”

  • competing priorities, and too many low priority distractions

  • interruptions

  • conflict among team members

  • unavailability of managers and leaders  

  • unclear lines of authority

  • too many managers (I answer to too many different people)

  • inconsistent message from various leaders. 

I’m sure you can you think of recent examples of many of these. Think of one example you’ve experienced recently. It is very easy to focus on the extent to which that factor outside your control constrained your options and left you feeling powerless. Right? 


Now, let’s conduct a little exercise. First, thinking about that moment, ask yourself:

  • What did YOU do? (Usually the answer is “nothing.”)

  • What could YOU have done differently in retrospect?

  • What were your options?

  • What thoughts, words, and actions could you have taken? 

Next, ask yourself:

  • Can you anticipate this factor getting in your way in the future?

  • What will be outside my control?

  • What will be inside my control? (My own thoughts, words, actions)

  • What options might I have?

  • What concrete steps will I take to make the greatest contribution I can? 

We call this set of questions “response power.” Learning to use “response power” is a very powerful way to learn and grow when it comes to taking greater personal responsibility. The idea is to think about those times when it feels like “there really is nothing YOU can do” and then reframe those situations to focus on the fact that there is always “something YOU can do.” 

Bottom line: Focusing on that moment of feeling powerless and finding answers to these questions is the key to teaching young employees how to increase their sense of personal responsibility.

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