In recent decades, one of the more disturbing trends in our culture has been the gradual decline in personal accountability. From corporate scandals and frivolous personal injury lawsuits to the endless blame games that fuel the gridlock in Washington, the penchant for “passing the buck” has become an endemic to American society.
Although fixing this national malaise may seem overwhelming, here’s an idea that could stem the tide.
Years ago, when I was the sales manager at our Buick Pontiac GMC dealership, I recall searching for a motivational ice breaker to kick off an off-site sales training event. Searching the internet, which was in its infancy at the time, I came across a “Tip of the Day” blog post by national sale trainer Grant Cordonne. While I’ve never been a fan of Cordonne’s bombastic, in-your-face style, his message, entitled “Take Responsibility for Everything in Your Life” got my attention.
He emphatically stated, “The moment you assign responsibility to another human being is the same moment that you resolve never to be in control of your life.” In his typical strident style, Cordonne challenged salespeople to take 100% responsibility for every unwelcome event in their lives, regardless of the circumstances, peppering his listeners with examples:
“The nick in the car you noticed this morning. You get overcharged for something. The argument with your spouse. Your kids didn’t get to school on time because of the bus. That was your fault. If you get a cold or cough, ask, ‘how was I responsible for that?’ Sure, you were on a plane with a hundred other sick people, but didn’t you buy the ticket?“
His message got me thinking: Is it really possible to take personally responsibility for every single unwanted circumstance in your life? It’s easy to sit in a sales meeting and nod your head approvingly, but real life is a different story.
While I don’t believe it’s healthy to feel personally accountable for major, life-altering events, such as the sickness or death of a loved one (I don’t think Cordonne was referring to these situations), I agree with him that accepting responsibility for the everyday “hits” we take that derail our focus, steal our peace, and entangle our emotions makes perfect sense.
Here are four reasons why taking 100% responsibility works:
1. Taking Full Responsibility Shifts Your Focus. There’s a natural impulse in our individualistic culture to assign responsibility to others, especially when it’s others’ actions that create the problem. But as long as the responsibility is external — outside of you — you are a victim. As soon as you accept accountability — even if it’s not your fault — you empower yourself, opening up your mind to more options. So instead of asking, “Why me?” you ask, “What does this make possible?”
2. Taking Responsibility Produces Resiliency and Gratitude. When something negative happens to you, even something minor, you have a choice to either dwell on what you’ve lost, or identify all that you have. This cultivates gratitude, and I’ve found that it is just as important in the little setbacks in our lives as it is the major setbacks.
3. Taking Responsibility Creates a Strong Culture. Instead of spending energy defending their reputation, assigning blame, and posturing, people who practice 100% responsibility tend to influence others from being problem-focused to solution-focused. And when leaders adopt and model this behavior, it catches on quickly, and can transform a family, team, company, even a society.
4. Taking Responsibility Strengthens Character. People who develop the habit of personal accountability at a young age launch a lifelong winning streak. By refusing to implicate others, they reinforce to themselves the rewards of behaving virtuously, becoming leaders in their own right who influence others and shape lives.
I remember when my father encountered a business setback in 1987, when, as one of the top selling Buick dealers in Michigan, Buick abruptly announced a major change in their retail strategy, discontinuing one of the high volume models my father relied on and completely repositioning another. Realizing that these moves would cut the dealership’s new car sales in half, my dad was dejected — but only for a moment. He absolutely refused to dwell on the negative and instead focused on his options. True to his entrepreneurial nature, by the next week, he had hatched an aggressive plan to dominate the expanding used car market in our area, which he accomplished within six months. It was a lesson in resiliency that I”ll never forget.
So the next time one of those unexpected mishaps threatens to knock you off your game — you’re late for a meeting due to heavy traffic, your teenager flunks algebra, or a sale that your were counting on unpredictably falls through — tell yourself, “I’m 100% accountable,” then pay attention to how you respond. And let me know how The Life Changing Impact of Taking Responsibility influenced your decision — I’d love your feedback.