You can’t be successful without taking responsibility. But the question of responsibility is fraught with danger. Taking too much responsibility can cause as many problems as taking too little. This Provision assists you to accept, change, and know what you can do. It will make you more able to respond.
This week, the United States’ Congress debated and approved the use of military force against Iraq. Or did they? The Constitution of the United States is clear as to the balance of powers: the Congress decides whether to wage war, the President decides how to wage war. The resolution approved by Congress does not declare war against Iraq. It cedes that decision to the President, if diplomacy fails, in what some • most notably Senator Robert C. Byrd from West Virginia • have called an unconstitutional abdication of Congressional responsibility.
Regardless of what you may think about how best to handle the world situation, we would all do well to think about the question of responsibility (as Senator Byrd has exhorted). When people fail to step up to the plate, when they sidestep or avoid their rightful responsibility, they are ditching a critical strategy for success. Successful people take responsibility. They don’t take too much and they don’t take too little. They take what belongs to them, what they can do something about, and what they can make the most of.
If anyone understands the importance of taking responsibility, it’s Anson Dorrance, the women’s soccer coach at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who I introduced you to in last week’s Provision. “Everyone on this team, coaches as well as players, takes responsibility for our success,” Dorrance observes. “We believe in maintaining a year-round fitness base, so we, as coaches, participate in that. We believe in striving to be the best you can be, so we try to do that in all parts of our lives.”
“And we also believe in taking responsibility for any loss. Any time our team loses, as a coaching staff, we take full responsibility. And what ends up happening, we feel over time, is that all of us collectively take responsibility for our failures. By so doing, we’re basically making a statement that we’re going to change and improve.”
“Too often, in not just athletics, but in all walks of life, everyone claims to either be a victim or blames their circumstances on something beyond their control. And as soon as you do that, you relinquish the opportunity to change your circumstances. If you want to be successful you have to take responsibility. And that starts with the coach, the leader of the team, as a role model.”
It happened again this past week as Dorrance’s number-one ranked team did something they’ve never done before: they lost their Conference opener. That was on Thursday night. On Saturday, they bounced back to win a hard-fought second Conference game, bringing their overall record for the season up to 11-1-2. Dorrance’s team was losing at half time. “I told my team at the half not to walk away without trying,” Dorrance says. “They really tried in the second half and in the overtime periods and they came away with the win.”
What a simple interpretation of taking responsibility: try. Although the notion of trying can be a copout and a game that we play with ourselves (“I’m trying to lose weight,” we say as we overeat.), it can also capture the wisdom of not being a helpless victim. Victims stop trying. Why bother to try if the outcome is beyond our control? Better to disassociate ourselves from the situation.
Winners try. They take responsibility. They embody the wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr’s now-famous Serenity prayer, written in 1932 during the Great Depression: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
In other words, winners take responsibility for what rightfully belongs to them and what they can do something about. They don’t take too much responsibility; they take just enough responsibility to catalyze a much larger reaction. In his excellent book, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, Joseph Jaworski writes about the problem of taking too much responsibility as the most vicious trap he faced in founding the American Leadership Forum.
“I began to feel I was indispensable to the whole process, that I was responsible for all the people involved, and that everyone was depending on me. The focus was on me instead of on the larger calling.”
What did this sense of over responsibility produce? A nervous wreck. “I began clamping down, working twelve-, fifteen-, and eighteen-hour days all week, and eventually on weekends as well. I would wake up in the middle of the night dripping with sweat, thinking of all the people whose jobs depended on me, and worrying about where the necessary operating capital would come from. I felt overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed, and eventually, my obsessive worry led to panic and anxiety attacks.”
How did Jaworski get out of this trap? A mental shift. “I had to learn to distinguish between concern and obsessive worry. I had to begin seeing things the way they really are: I am operating in the flow of the universe. I had to change the way I think in order for this trap to disappear.” In other words, Jaworski had to learn the wisdom of the Serenity prayer. It was not up to him to make things happen. It was up to him to participate fully in the unfolding of the universe.
That’s the irony of responsibility. It’s bad when you take too little and it’s bad when you take too much. But when you take just enough responsibility, when you have the wisdom to know the difference, you become the vortex around which life begins to turn. It’s not unlike the shift which happens in many athletic contests between the first and second halves. One team dominates until the other team takes responsibility. They try, try, again until they find something that works.
This isn’t so much about trying harder or smarter; it’s more about trying new strategies, especially when things aren’t going your way. It’s about the root meaning of the word “responsible” • being able to respond, being flexible in the face of adversity, being creative and experimental until something works. Too often, Jaworski notes, people get fixated on one particular game plan. They think they have to stick with the plan at all costs. That kind of all-or-nothing thinking leads to the problem of either over- or under-responsibility. And it often leads to failure.
Don’t let that happen to you. Take responsibility. Accept, change, and know what you can do. Chances are it’s more than you know and less than you think. When you make that mental shift • from being neither a victim who can do nothing nor a rescuer who can do everything to a response-able person who can do something — you’ll end up being ever more successful in the flow of life.
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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