Leadership: Do you have it in you?
December 9, 2006 3:24pm CST
Nothing succeeds like success, they say. We all want to be successful in our careers, be it in our roles as individuals, team players or team leaders. Taking responsibility for one's actions is a key component of success as an individual. And taking responsibilty for what your team does is a key component of leadership. When one doesn't do that, failure is just around the corner. At your workplace, you will often hear people passing the buck when something goes wrong. These people are definitely not going very high up the ladder. You will find most of them projecting the same pattern in their reasoning and approach to life, as well -- that nothing was their fault, including the incidents that happen in their personal lives as well. Blame and excuses: hallmarks of an unsuccessful leader Avoiding responsibility in one's personal life carries over into one's professional life, and vice versa. Excuses for failure and the choices you make at workplace fuel dysfunctional thinking and, subsequently, undesirable behaviour and actions. "Making excuses, rather than taking 100 per cent responsibility for your actions, decisions, and their outcomes, is the hallmark of future failures," feels Anjali Singh, a 27-year old manager with a finance company in Delhi. This is why taking responsibility is so powerfully important and is the essence of what can make or break a leader. Take responsibility at workplace Taking responsibility is the underlying factor behind success at work. If someone in your team makes a mistake, you must be able to admit it, take the necessary action and then proceed. This is something that many do not understand. No leader can be successful without being accountable for his/her own actions. Being responsible ensures that even when events outside your control go awry, you can at least determine how you will react to the situation. You can make the situation a disaster or you can use it as an opportunity to learn and to grow. "My friend is a manager in a new startup venture. Every time we meet, I am taken aback by her failure to take responsibility for what's going on in her work and life. Everything is always someone else's fault. She explains away each problem with reasons about why she can't influence the outcome," says Anjali. "We are continuously confronted with external pressures at work that affect us greatly. It is how we react to these pressures that largely determine what we accomplish in our career. Those who take responsibility and recognise their own weakness in the way it relates to the problem are the ones who grow and accomplish. Those who blame others or ignore their roles, stagnate and achieve less," says Rishi Gupta, 29, a manager in a telecom company. Why people don't admit their mistakes "Mistakes bring about a feeling of tension and anxiety within the individual. At such times, the mind seeks rational ways of escaping the situation. A range of defence mechanisms can be triggered. These defence mechanisms are subconsciously employed to protect the ego and they tend to distort, transform, or otherwise falsify reality. One uses these 'deceptions' to avoid facing issues of guilt, failure, fear, emotional pain, or embarrassment. In distorting reality, there is a change in perception which helps to lessen anxiety," says psychologist Dr. Kanchan Misra. There are many defence mechanisms. Some examples are: * Denial: Claiming/believing what is true to be false * Projection: Attributing uncomfortable feelings to others * Displacement: Redirecting emotions to a substitute target * Rationalisation: Creating false but credible justifications * Reaction formation: Overeacting in an opposite way to the fear * Intellectualisation: Taking an objective viewpoint in order to ignore the emotional aspect * Regression: Going back to acting like a child * Repression: Pushing uncomfortable thoughts into the subconscious * Sublimation: Redirecting 'wrong' urges into socially acceptable actions "Some defence mechanisms are healthy. However, we sometimes either use them at the wrong time or overuse them, which can be destructive," says Dr Misra. For example, a leader whose team keeps failing, may misuse defence mechanisms such as rationalisation, projection, or denial, often. Common defensive expressions used at the workplace * "It was not my fault." (blaming others without accepting personal responsibility) * "It wasn't all that important." (belittling the act) * "It happened a long time ago." (implying it doesn't matter anymore) * "They made me do it." (blaming others for a personal wrong act) * "There was no other way out." (justification of wrong) * "It only happened once." (rationalisation) * "Everyone does it." (rationalisation) * "I am only human." (indirectly blaming god) * "Well, no one is perfect." (general comparison to shift the guilt) * "The contract we lost was not a good one anyway." (a case of 'sour grapes' -- another defense mechanism) How to take responsibility as a leader "You have to be emotionally mature enough to see your decisions through and deal with the outcomes, whether positive or negative," says Rishi. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind: Acknowledge that your work is your responsibility No matter how much you try to blame others for the events at work, each event is the outcome of choices you made and are making. Demonstrate accountability. Make no excuses Listen to the little voice inside your head. "The next time you catch yourself making an excuse, whether for a missed deadline or an unmet goal, gently remind yourself -- no excuses," says Anjali. Excuses fuel failure. Listen to yourself when you speak "Observe yourself talking with colleagues and friends. In your conversation, do you hear yourself blaming others for things that aren't going exactly as you wish? If you can sense your blaming patterns, you can stop them," says Dr Misra. Take feedback seriously If someone gives you feedback that you make excuses and blame others for your troubles, control your defensive reaction, explore examples and deepen your understanding of the situation. Thus, when events at the workplace exert pressure on you, you can respond positively or negatively. Those who respond positively and take responsibility rather than blame others or be indifferent are the ones who grow as leaders. Consequently, they develop the foundation for great positive responses, great achievement, and great success in leadership. So, are you ready to take responsibility for your actions?