Take Responsibility; Don’t Dodge It

 

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible
for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

 Ah, the blame game. We’ve all played it. Most of the time, it simply doesn’t feel good to accept responsibility when we’ve fallen short, so we cast the blame on others (e.g., “If my teacher wasn’t so rude, I wouldn’t have failed the class.” “I know I got a speeding ticket, but my friend made me late!” “My teammates cost us the win.”).

However, we’re all human, so we make mistakes.  Every single one of us. Sometimes those mistakes are completely innocent and happen by accident, and sometimes they stem from a bad decision, a character flaw, or selfish motives. But no matter what, mistakes and shortfalls are part of life. While no one keeps track, they number well into the thousands in a lifetime. That being the case, one has to wonder why it’s so difficult for us to admit our mistakes and accept responsibility.

Is it because the words “I’m sorry” don’t come easily? In such cases, it’s sometimes easier (and feels less shameful) to blame others and make excuses. Our pride gets in the way.

Or, maybe we fear how others will react. For people who have been victims of abuse, this is a natural response.

Is there a better way to handle our mistakes?

People who are prone to blame others first are actually reflecting their own insecurities. Implicitly, they assume their relationships can’t withstand an acknowledgement of a mistake or shortfall. However, it’s a false assumption, especially since most people appreciate it when someone admits a mistake and asks for forgiveness.

When you make a mistake or your best efforts fall short of the goal, you can do one of two things:

  1. You can TAKE responsibility, apologize if appropriate, do what you can to make things right, and commit to doing better the next time around.
  2. You can DODGE responsibility, blame someone else (or the circumstances), and walk away from the situation – leaving others (and yourself!) with the problem you created.

Choice #1 will gain you the respect of your family, peers, and colleagues and help you learn from your mistake. It’s an act of integrity. Choice #2, on the other hand, will damage your reputation and deprive you of a valuable opportunity for personal growth.

Refusing to own up to our shortfalls creates a blind spot in our lives—one that might cause us to miss out on great opportunities to learn and grow! That professor who was “biased” against you? She could have turned out to be a great tutor. The coach you were convinced benched you every game because “he didn’t like you?” He could have been a great trainer and helped you up your game. That “jealous” classmate? She could have helped you become a better friend.

The long and short of it is this: Accepting responsibility is a hallmark of a true leader and a sign of maturity. The next time you’re tempted to blame first, swallow your pride and admit that you fell short. You’ll be respected and admired by others when you do… and you might be surprised by the grace they extend to you in return!

Do you find it difficult to admit your mistakes and accept that you aren’t perfect? Why? How do you develop the value of taking responsibility for mistakes in your teens or students?

Humility Over Pride

The general election is just days away! Things always get pretty crazy during this week every four years—lots of promises made, reflections on presidents of the past, inflammatory rants on social media pages—the list goes on. As I think about what a new president will mean for our future, I also find myself thinking about history, and something I think we are all looking for right now: a little bit of humility.

No matter what political party you are affiliated with (if any), I think we can all agree that Abraham Lincoln was a pretty remarkable man.  Despite his humble beginnings, he accomplished some incredible things (beginning the process of ending slavery, maintaining the union during the Civil War, and setting an example of integrity and wisdom). I wish we had more role models like him today.

One of my own role models during my long investment career was a colleague named Ernie Ankrim, a brilliant financial thinker who became the chief market strategist where I worked. However, as smart a strategist as he was, Ernie was equally gifted in public speaking.

Everyone admired how Ernie shared his insights with such humor and wit. He was the total package and audiences could never get enough of him. (It was painful to follow him!) Yet, despite all of his accolades, Ernie is the one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. If anyone had bragging rights it was Ernie, yet he was always the first to give others the credit.

Ernie’s humility has had an enormous impact on my life and my behavior. Whenever I’ve been acknowledged for a good work or some success, I often think, “How would Ernie respond?” My answer is always the same. First and foremost, I owe my success to others.

Abe Lincoln had a similar philosophy. He famously said, “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”

As you travel along your life journey, you’ll have many proud achievements along the way. And you know what?  They’ll likely speak for themselves. You won’t have to toot your own horn to get people to notice you.

Here are three tips to help you become more humble (and I think we can all hope our presidential nominees will apply these to their lives as well!):

  1. Ask for feedback from others. Instead of insisting you’re always right (or your way is the only way), consider asking others for feedback on your performance (what went well and where can I up my game?). They may offer some insight you never would have thought of yourself!
  2. Understand that adversity can be preparation for greater things. Setbacks are a part of life, unfortunately. Humility allows you to accept these obstacles without the fear of failure, to dust yourself off, and start again.
  3. Confront your negative opinions of others. Do you have any deep-rooted prejudices? Chances are, you’re too proud to admit it. It’s important to recognize these (for example, negative views on certain people groups, etc.), and then make the effort to listen and learn with an open mind.

 

And, when successes come your way, rejoice and be grateful to those who helped make it happen. Your acknowledgement of others first, before you give yourself a pat on the back, will be greatly admired and will set you up as a leader of integrity.

When you do something great, is your first instinct to give yourself the credit or others who have helped make you the person you are today? Who comes to mind as someone you would like to thank or give credit?

We All Need to Know We Matter

 

Last week we talked about how a defining purpose inspires a life of passion. Unfortunately, for some, that’s easier said than done.
 
Take teenagers who receive no expressions of love or healthy modeling from home: it doesn’t take long for that deficit to show up in academics, motivation, and demeanor. In acts of desperation, they join gangs or get pregnant or drop out of school. It’s a tragic cycle that has become all too common, with one unhappy ending after another.
 
During the past year, I’ve had many opportunities to speak with teens and young adults who are, in one form or another, facing a crisis of relevance. They see school as irrelevant, and worse yet, themselves as irrelevant. Some of their questions:
 

  • “What am I worth when my parents never tell me they love me?”
  • “What’s the point of staying in school? I’ll never use this stuff anyway.”
  • “What can I do to convince my father to let me live my dream?”
  • “I’m not that smart in academics. Can I still become a great leader?”

 
These conversations can be heart wrenching. But, interestingly, these are the kids who are most engaged in my talks on leadership! They ask the most questions and ask to share in private. They’re searching—for hope, relevance, and worth—even though it may not appear that way on the surface.
 
We’ve got to give it to them. All of them! Until young people see the relevance and value of their lives, there’s simply no way they’ll reach their full potential.
 
Here are some ways adults can help:

  • Recognize that no one (especially a young person) has a complete and accurate perspective on all he or she has to offer—whether character qualities or skills. They need the perspectives of others who can offer a more complete picture of their worth.
  • Parents can ensure each of their children understands his or her unique value, and avoid showing favoritism toward siblings through words or attention.
  • Educators can offer opportunities for skills/aptitude assessments and programs where friends, relatives, and mentors honor each student with expressions of value. For example, some innovative schools hold special retreats where students receive letters collected from important people in their lives—life changing keepsake experiences.
  • Look for opportunities to “speak life” into young people and encourage them to do the same.

 
Remember, relevance breeds hope and hope breeds motivation and direction. It’s a vital gift to give the young people in your life. Give generously.
 
Are you aware of the need for the young people around you to feel a sense of significance–and how much it means to to their ability to succeed in life? In what ways do you “speak life” into them, to make a difference that can last a lifetime? “Share” this blog with a friend, and let us know your thoughts and suggestions by commenting below!