Saturday, August 2, 2008

We Are Not Responsible .....

.... for lost or stolen articles of clothing.

So reads the sign in many restaurants, including my favorite Chinese restaurant that I am sitting in as I write this.

Which got me to thinking about how common this way of thinking is in many people's lives as in - "I" am not responsible for:

  1. My failed relationship with him / her - they didn't do what I needed them to do
  2. My failed business - I chose not to make effective decisions (or decisions at all), leverage knowledge from other sources or have the humility to listen to others
  3. The car accident I was in - I should be allowed to fuss with my stereo, talk on my cell phone, drink my coffee, scold my kid in the backseat, chat with the person beside me and wave to a friend on the street - all at the same time - process overload is a myth
  4. The fortune I lost on business opportunity "x" - the people who worked for me never stepped up when I needed them to
  5. The way my kids grew up - the environment (schools, friends, government, environment, etc) let me down
  6. My inability to "move up" in the world - the world is conspiring to prevent me from achieving success because they fear my great ideas
  7. My inability to learn from others while at the same time, blaming others for my lack of success - I know everything I need to know with the exception of the things people withhold from me on purpose in order to damage me
  8. My inability to find my purpose - the world owes me big time and I will sit here and wait for it to deliver my reward
  9. My inability to make a difference in the world - the world is not ready for me yet - when it is ready to play by my rules, we will get along well
  10. My poor health, because I have too many things going on that prevent me from finding the time to eat well, exercise, be stress free, eat in a manner different from my partner or "insert reason here" - everyone else needs to step up to help me live a better life
  11. Your stuff when I break it through my negligence - I wouldn't have broken it if you didn't own it.  An interesting event happened to me at a fabulous restaurant this week when a waitress accidentally broke my new laptop but instead of apologizing, suggested it was my fault for bringing the laptop into the restaurant and for this reason, I was actually to blame for my laptop being broken and therefore the restaurant would not accept any responsibility.  While accidents happen, an apology never showed up and instead, I found myself having to defend my decision as to why I brought my laptop to a business dinner in the first place.  If I could paraphrase the great MasterCard commercial - price for me to fix my laptop; $350 - potential cost to the restaurant for the employee who gave me grief over their accident; $12,000+ a year in business get-togethers that will not take place in this restaurant moving forward.   As the employee told me, the loss of my business due to her attitude is "unfortunate".  Unfortunate indeed - I feel for the owner who is losing business because of the attitude of this employee.

All of this being said, many of us live a life of avoidance, rarely living a life from the other perspective, the one of striving for excellence.  Many of us do the bare minimum with the hope that we can avoid key decision points and opportunities to accept responsibility.  If such opportunities manifest , it is often the other person's fault - at least from our perspective.

Imagine how many fewer failures would exist or how much smaller in impact they would  if we each took more responsibility.

One of the things I really appreciated about the company that I co-founded years ago was that the team worked towards solutions.  Who made an error wasn't important - how the team collaborated to find and correct the error was everything.  The bonding that occurs as a result of minimum ego, maximum humility and optimal teamwork is incredible to behold.  While I don't like to single out people, I thank Roberto, Claudio, Ken, Michael, Joachim, Tom and Narender for demonstrating the power of this on a constant basis.

Think about the impact on business - how much more quickly and cost-effectively problems would be solved if we took ownership of things instead of deflecting or obfuscating the issue.

I wonder how many relationships could survive the divorce tsunami that is sweeping around the world if each person in a relationship asked "What is my part in this" instead of asking "Why don't / can't you do or be like .....".

As far as our kids go, when we accept responsibility for creating who they have become and embrace them for the miracles that they are, a lot of classic cross-generational misunderstanding disappears.

Accepting responsibility would allow us to say "yup - that was me - but at least I learned something", putting us in a position of power to learn and to share so that others don't repeat the same mistake.  Refusing to accept this responsibility disempowers us, prepares us to repeat the mistake and not provide opportunity for others to learn from our mistakes.

As for my laptop, an apology would have made all the difference in the world.  I would have accepted it, acknowledged that mistakes happen and everything would have been forgotten.  Instead, for the instigator to rudely transfer the blame to me has reminded me that there are two kinds of accidents:

  1. real accidents that no one has control over (within reason)
  2. accidents where people should pause and reflect first before taking action, this type of accident being potentially more damaging and avoidable since we have direct control over them

I know when I take inventory of the things I can take responsibility for, I have much to learn and lots of room for growth.

How are you doing?

Yours in service and servanthood.



Addendum - August 6, 2008:

I finally caught up with the owner of the restaurant.  After what started out as a hostile conversation, with the owner assuming I was trying to rip him off for a new laptop, cooler heads prevailed and the conversation eventually turned into a potentially new relationship, a discussion of restaurants around the world, an apology and mutual best wishes.  The lesson from this?  Accepting responsibility goes a long way to defuse an issue and provides an opportunity to build a bridge rather than burn one.

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