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Teaching Personal Responsibility
Thursday, April 20, 2017
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Personal responsibility: Staying focused on what one can control directly—principally one’s own thoughts, words, and actions—and controlling one’s responses in the face of factors outside one’s own control.

Here is the reality: In any situation, there are factors beyond our control. For example, I feel gravity and time are constantly holding me back. What’s more, in any situation, there are factors within our control: our own thoughts, words, and actions.

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Almost anyone can focus on the outside factors or the inside factors. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that most people have a tendency to point to outside factors beyond their control when explaining their own short-comings and failures, not to mention the successes of others. Not surprisingly, many people have a strong tendency to point to factors within their direct control when it comes to attributing our own successes—as well as the failures and short-comings of others.

The good news is that most people know how to focus on factors within their control. It’s just that we take our focus off those factors when we make excuses, blame others, and complain.

When it comes to teaching personal responsibility, the key is to keep focus on factors within the control of the individual. It’s important to teach others to ask themselves several key questions:

  • What is within my control right now? 
  • Where will I focus my attention and energy? 
  • What are my options? 
  • What’s the plan? 
  • What are my next steps? 
  • What are my next thoughts, words, and actions?

Here’s the message I recommend managers deliver as they try to convince young employees to care about developing personal responsibility: No matter how high or low your position, if you focus your attention and energy on factors outside your control, you will render yourself powerless. However, the flip side of this message is also true. No matter how high or low your position, if you focus your attention and energy on factors within your control, you will maximize your power.
Bottom line: In any situation, no matter how little is within your control, the way to make yourself more powerful is to focus like a laser beam on whatever thoughts, words, and actions you can take. In other words, focus on the choices you make and know the impact you have on others. Sometimes it is a very small amount of power, but more power is better than less power. Remember, the key is learning to ask yourself those critical questions—every step of the way. That’s how you increase your “response power” in any situation.

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is internationally recognized as the leading expert on young people in the workplace and one of the leading experts on leadership and management. Bruce is a best-selling author, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer.

Since 1995, Bruce has worked with tens of thousands of leaders and managers in hundreds of organizations ranging from Aetna to Wal-Mart; from the Army to the YMCA.  In recent years, Bruce was named by Management Today as one of the few contemporary figures to stand out as a “management guru” and he was named to the 2009 Thinkers 50 rising star list. On August 13, 2009, Bruce was honored to accept Toastmasters International’s most prestigious honor, the Golden Gavel. This honor is annually presented to a single person who represents excellence in the fields of communication and leadership. Past winners have included Stephen Covey, Zig Ziglar, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Ken Blanchard, Tom Peters, Art Linkletter, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Walter Cronkite.

Bruce’s most recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face: Step-by-step Solutions to (Nearly) All of Your Management Challenges (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2014) was published in September, 2014.  He is also the author of the best-seller It’s Okay to Be the Boss (HarperCollins, 2007) and the classic Managing Generation X (W.W. Norton, 2000; first published in 1995). Bruce’s other books include Winning the Talent Wars (W.W. Norton, 2001), which received widespread acclaim from Fortune 500 CEOs and business journalists; the best-seller Fast Feedback (HRD Press, 1998); Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: Managing Generation Y (Jossey-Bass, 2009); Managing the Generation Mix (HRD Press, 2006) and It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (Jossey-Bass, 2010).   Many of Bruce’s works have been published around the world in foreign editions.

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