The Sheriff was talking to his senior leadership when he posed the question, “who bears responsibility for our deputies achieving their professional goals?” Confident I knew the answer, I waited. Then, the Sheriff said, “if any of you are waiting for this Agency to shepherd you toward your objectives, you’re misguided. You must do it yourself.” Not what I expected.

With the Sheriff’s guidance swirling around in my head, I continued some research I’d been doing on employee burnout. “Organizations bear responsibility for establishing the conditions that ease burnout.” Then another article telling organizations they’re the bad guys. And another. And another. I agree with the need for organizations to create environments in which their employees thrive, but the Sheriff’s voice was persuasive. Where does that responsibility stop and where must our humans “pick up the ball and run with it?”

In our contemporary context, too many are excellent at (1) highlighting challenges and (2) admonishing organizations for not addressing them effectively. What Catalyzer increasingly finds missing is advice on personal responsibility. Not just in business, but everywhere. What role do our employees have in rising to the occasion, taking the initiative, and acting without waiting to be told? None? Balderdash.

Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman published a book addressing this subject called The Oz Principle. In it, the authors suggest that there’s a mythical line, above which our humans are seeing, owning, solving, and doing (executing) on challenges they encounter in life. Below that line, they’re essentially victims, taking a stance that varies from waiting to see if a challenge magically disappears or someone steps in to solve it for them, to outright denying or ignoring the challenges to begin with. Victims.

You’ve probably got one or two in your organization. These are the humans that, no matter what is asked of them, effectively respond with some variant of “the dog ate my homework.” “My chair doesn’t work right.” “The form is too complicated.” “No one showed me how to do that.” “Johnny doesn’t do this, why should I?” Victims, and here’s what you do.

Shine an Empathic Light. We encountered something akin to this some time ago at a community bank in Ohio when we were asked to coach a challenging teammate. One coaching session is all it took. “Do you realize that every time we ask something of you, you respond with an excuse?” Mortified with that realization, she modified her behavior immediately. It had been in her blind spot and all we needed to do was shine a light and reveal it. But it won’t always be that easy.

Lead Yourselves. We smile whenever encountering someone who tells us they aren’t a leader because they have no direct reports. “Did you get yourself up, dress yourself appropriately, and take care to get to work by the time specified?” we ask. “If so, you’re leading yourself.” Start there. Too many don’t.

See Something, Say Something. It’s a mantra we encounter in our world when “big brother” asks for our help in combatting terrorism, human trafficking, and the like. At work, we see things all the time that could be done better, yet seldom say anything. If you remain quiet, just know that the thing you’re unwilling to address just became the thing you’re committed to living with. Stop complaining about what you see if you won’t say anything.

Be the Master of your Fate and the Captain of Your Soul. William Ernest Henley penned these words in his poem, Invictus. Truly, if you refuse these challenges, know that another will likely become both your master and your captain. So…

  • Read Invictus and become your own master and captain
  • Read Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl and find the meaning in your life
  • Read Citizenship in a Republic (the whole thing), by Theodore Roosevelt and get in the arena

We’d normally tell you to call us if you wanted some help. Not this time. Do this yourselves.


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