Build A Fence At the Top Of The Cliff, Not A Hospital At The Bottom

“The reason people blame things on the previous generations is that there’s only one other choice.”
Doug Larson

Accountability is “in.” It’s one of the hot topics on the speaking circuit, and indeed, I often address that topic in my keynotes and seminars. If you’re going to be an effective manager, you MUST hold your people accountable. Otherwise, your company may crash. After all, if an employee is paid $200 a day to do a job but only gives back $50 worth of effort, the economics simply do not work out.

The same goes for parenting. If you’re going to be an effective parent, you MUST hold your kids accountable. When they violate the rules, mix with the wrong crowd, cheat on a test, stay out beyond their curfew, or do any other dumb things like drugs or alcohol, you MUST hold them accountable.

Of course, ineffective parents make excuses for not doing their job. They’ll say, “By the time I get home from work I’m too tired to discipline the kids … or … I want them to have all the things I never had growing up.” Your sincere but naive sentiment will simply turn spoiled children into spoiled adults … who feel entitled to everything but responsible for nothing.

Holding people accountable may sound straight laced. Well, so is gravity. Practice prevention; build a fence at the top of the cliff, not a hospital at the bottom!

So I’m all for accountability. But there’s another issue that may be even more important … and that is … people learning to take responsibility. It’s one of the characteristics of EVERY truly effective, successful individual in any role or job.

Unfortunately, we’re living in a time and a culture where many people don’t know what it means to take responsibility. After all, the “in” thing is to blame everybody else for what’s not working.

To turn that around, we’ve got to start teaching people what “taking responsibility” is all about. Here are a few of the things I teach in my program on “The Payoff Principle: How to Motivate Yourself to Win Every Time in Any Situation.”

=> 1. Responsible people take responsibility for making things better.

As author Barbara Pletcher puts it, “The real winners in life are the people who look at every situation with an expectation that they can make it work or make it better.”

That’s tough. Anytime you try to make things better, you’ll probably face naysayers who say it can’t be done, roadblockers who try to stop you, and the very likely possibility you’ll fail before you succeed. And who wants to go through all that hassle? Winners! Responsible winners!

Responsible winners know it takes courage to leave their comfort zones, go through some tough times, and wonder if they’re making any progress at all. But they try to make things better … anyway.

It’s a lesson that needed to be learned at a particular dog food company. At their annual conference, the sales manager asked his sales team how they liked the company’s new advertising program. “Great,” they replied, “the best in the business.”

“What do you think of the product?” the manager asked. “Fantastic,” they replied.

“How about the sales force?” he insisted. Of course, the sales team knew they were the best so they responded enthusiastically.

“Okay then,” the manager said, “if we have the best brand, the best packaging, the best advertising program, and the best sales force, why are we in 17th place in our industry?” After an awkward silence one of the salesmen shouted, “It’s those dogs. They just won’t eat the stuff.”

Guess what? Your problem is not the dogs, or your job, or your spouse, or society at large, or whatever. Be honest. Your biggest challenge in life is you. If life’s not going the way you want it to, you are responsible for making it better. And responsible winners do exactly that.

=> 2. Responsible people take action rather than wait to be told.

In other words, they learn to self-motivate and self-manage. And over time, that builds tremendous character as well as great results. As Dr. Heartsill Wilson said, “The things you do that you don’t have to do will always determine what you are when it is too late to do anything about it.”

It’s a lesson a wannabe sports reporter had to learn. As Gene Marine, the editor of the “Bellefontaine Examiner” newspaper in Ohio, tells the story, he sent a new sports reporter out to cover a big game. He returned to the paper without a report.

“What’s the story?” asked Marine. “There is none,” replied the reporter.

“No game?” What happened?” quizzed the editor. “The stadium collapsed.” answered the reporter.

Unable to believe what he was hearing the editor asked, “Then where’s the report on its collapse?” After a moment’s hesitation, the reporter replied, “That wasn’t my assignment, Sir.” Needless to say, that was the end of his career. The wannabe reporter knew little or nothing about being responsible. He waited to be told what to do rather than take appropriate action.

Max Steingart writes about that in his eloquent essay. He writes,

“Success Requires a Willingness to Act If you want to be successful, you can start at anytime. But you must start. Don’t make the mistake of not doing anything because you can only do a little. Do what you can do. To be aware of what you want and not go after it, to spend years wondering if something could have materialized, and never knowing if it could have been, is a tragic waste of your life. The worst thing you can do is not to try. To reach a port, you must sail. You must sail, not lie at anchor. You must sail off in the direction of your dreams, not drift. A journey of a thousand miles, begins with one step.”

And finally for today’s issue of the “Tuesday Tip,” (look for more detail on responsibility in next week’s issue) …

=> 3. Responsible people don’t expect somebody else to do it.

The greatest researcher on success, Napoleon Hill, commented on that. He said many years ago, “The best job goes to the person who can get it done without passing the buck or coming back with excuses.” The responsible person just does what needs to be done instead of expecting someone else to do it.

Now I know there are some people who aren’t taking responsibility for making things better, who aren’t stepping up to the plate, because they honestly believe there are others who are more qualified. Their intentions are good … but they’re wrong. Those who make a difference in life or at work are seldom the most qualified. More often than not, those that make a difference are simply the ones who decided to try.

At the University of Southern California commencement ceremony, that’s what Chief Judge Alexander M. Saunders told the students. He said, “As responsibility is passed to your hands it will not do to assume that someone else will bear the major burdens, that someone else will demonstrate key convictions, that someone else will run for office, take care of the poor, visit the sick, protect civil rights, enforce the law, transmit value, and defend freedom. What you do not value will not be valued. What you do not remember will not be remembered. What you do not change will not be changed. What you do not do will not be done. You can, if you will, craft a new society. It’s not a question of what to do, but simply the will to do it.”

Perhaps you have a tough decision to make, and you’ve been putting it off and putting it off. Perhaps you’ve been waiting for someone else to do what needs to be done. If so, write down all the reasons you’re not taking any action. And write down all the advantages of making the decision and taking the necessary action. Once you know in your heart what you should do and why you should do it, go for it. It’s what taking personal responsibility is all about.

Action:  On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means “always making excuses” and 10 means “always taking responsibility,” how would you score yourself? What is your plan for increasing your score?