We are all looking for someone or something to blame.
Our political candidates and lawmakers spend more time going head to head about who is to blame for our country’s problems than laying out their plans for fixing them. This is nothing new in the business world, either.
Hearing the words like “responsibility” or “accountability” can trigger a number of different associations for most of us. Some of them are positive like caring, commitment, trust. However, these words carry far more negative associations in our culture, like the heavy burdens and stresses of adult life and, even worse, the phenomenon of blame and the question, “Who’s in trouble now?”
Also see: “Who are EBA’s 2016 Advisers of the Year?”
Due to these negative associations that often operate at an unconscious level, even those of us who consider ourselves to be responsible, well-intended people would often rather avoid being responsible and accountable. We know that when we do step up and take ownership for things, there are always risks attached –– we may be setting ourselves up for future blame, if things don’t go according to plan.
Taking responsibility when things are going well is easy. Leaders like to receive praise when their efforts have paid off, or when their delegations have led to greater teamwork and success. It is when things go wrong, however, that responsibility becomes a double-edged sword. The buck is going to be passed. The blame is going to amass like a snowball rolling down the organizational ladder, and somebody is going to be hit with it.
Who should that person be? The answer is simple: You.
The blame game
We live in what I call a blame-and-shame-based culture. We are enculturated from a very young age to conform to the mainstream. Nonconformance carries the threat of rejection and shaming. Simply making the ordinary mistakes inherent in learning and growth as human beings can bring blame and the accompanying shame raining down on our heads. In business, the mainstream happens to be (and has been for some time) made up of people who have learned that avoiding the blow of taking responsibility is the best way to ensure they succeed.
It’s not uncommon for those starting out in the professional world to hear advice like: “You have to play the game to get ahead.”
Responsibility, in this day and age, is a radical concept. The generations before ours grew up in a very fear-based, survival-driven world. The Great Depression, World War II and the decline of small family businesses were the reality that they operated in, and the burdens they carried were understandably heavy. The generation that followed, unwilling to shoulder the same burden, ran headlong into a counterculture that equated freedom with irresponsibility. Remnants of this way of thinking are still prevalent. In trying to forge their own path, the previous generations have left a mess in their wake and it has become ours to sift through, looking for any road to success that hasn’t been obscured by falling debris.
It has become provocative to truly be responsible. It is rare to find a leader willing to stand up and shoulder the chance that things will go wrong and be tied to their name and reputation. It can be a daunting concept for any of us to consider. However, it can also be incredibly liberating. Embracing genuine ownership for the day-to-day circumstances we face in life puts us back in the driver’s seat, where we can exercise true personal freedom and live, work and lead from choice and possibility.
Mindfulness over matter
In the same way that we are often looking for someone or something to pass the blame to, rising leaders and business owners today are also on the hunt for someone to give them an easy solution for improvement. It’s impossible to browse business publications today without seeing an entrepreneur trying to package and sell mindfulness.
Current brain science certainly validates that exercising one’s brain muscles through various mindfulness practices can improve any number of performance components like attention, focus and memory, potentially enhancing overall productivity. As a means to effectively managing stress and cultivating greater self-awareness and capacity for reflective leaning, mindfulness indeed shows great promise. However, as powerful a tool as mindfulness is, it is not by itself a panacea or silver bullet that will improve your leadership skills and organization. It’s what you do once you’ve developed greater mindfulness and awareness that really counts.
Mindfulness is not the end product. It is a stepping stone.
The moment an uncomfortable circumstance enters our lives, our immediate instinct is to put as much distance between it and ourselves as possible. Our natural reaction is to blame someone or something else for our discomfort. Mindfulness and self-awareness can lead us to recognize, in the moment, these knee-jerk, reactive behaviors, but it is the courage to face and embrace our circumstances that tempers the steel of powerful and transformational leaders.
Mindfulness is a vehicle to embracing responsibility and ownership, and to overcoming the fear that would have us shirk it. Effective leadership involves embracing fear and directly facing and owning our present circumstances or challenges in order to, first of all, step into a leadership position with ourselves. We certainly cannot control others or the world around us, but we can become powerful and positive influencers and leaders by reclaiming the “driver’s seat” in our own lives.
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