Leadership Skills: How to Own Your Problems and Grow From Them

“It’s not my fault!”

“I didn’t do a thing!”

“I got put on a bad team!” — which is my personal favorite.

What’s common to each of these statements is a claim that the cause of one’s problem lies elsewhere, external to oneself.

Many of us are quite accomplished at thinking and claiming that the cause of our problems lie elsewhere.

We must be learning it at a young age. I hear it in from my children all the time (Me: Who left the wet towel on the floor? Them: Not me! Not me! He did it! Did not! Uh-huh!). I used the same mantras as a kid. My mother once reported that we had a ghost in our house named “Not Me.”

Avoiding ownership for our problems must have a payoff, or we wouldn’t do it. So what are the perceived benefits?

First, doing so seems to give us some room to maintain our narcissistic inertia and maneuver away from some uncomfortable correction.

Perhaps it helps us escape evaluation by ourselves or others (who wants more of that?). Or maybe it helps us avoid other negative consequences of acknowledging that we created a problem.

In all cases, it allows us to avoid the sometimes truly difficult tasks of thinking,
learning, correcting, and improving.

However, in that very same escape lies a much more dangerous trap. That’s the trap of self-imposed powerlessness and victimization.

To deny one’s own role in creating one’s consequences, either desirable or undesirable, is to deny one’s power to create. And to deny one’s power to create is to forfeit the opportunity to experience freedom, choice, and power.

The truth is that we have at least a hand in creating ALL of our own consequences. Thus we can’t actually avoid responsibility. Ever.

We are responsible for all of our results — all of the time. It is impossible to not be!

The difference then between being powerful and powerless is whether we choose to own our responsibility.

And it’s relatively easy to take ownership of our lives when things are going well for us. We can proudly claim “I did that.” So that’s why the key to personal responsibility lies in owning our results when things are not going well.

I’m convinced that recognizing and owning one’s own role in creating one’s problems is the key to personal responsibility.

So how do you apply this? Well, the answer is not so much in what you do when solving problems, but in how you think about them.

5 Ways to Think About the Various Problems in Your Life and Work

1. Whether it is an unavoidable problem like a stopped drain, or a more avoidable one like a difficult coworker, acknowledge each problem as soon as possible. You will deal with it sooner and more effectively that way.

2. Appreciate that you have problems — think of them as a gift of learning and stretching. Know how much more powerful you will be when you have learned how to deal with them. You are going to encounter problems for the rest of your life, so you might as well see them as presents with a positive purpose.

3. Claim your problems as your very own (this is especially important in relationships such as on teams and in partnerships and collaborations).

This doesn’t mean that you release anyone else from their role in creating the problem, just that you completely own your own role and take ownership of correcting the problem. You can completely own a problem without excusing another of ownership. Try it. It feels great!

4. Ask yourself

  • what role you had in creating this for yourself
  • what you can learn from it so it won’t repeat
  • how you can learn, correct, or improve as a result of experiencing this problem.

When problems persist for a long time, or when they recur over and over, ask yourself what you are so far not seeing, learning, or understanding.

5. When you successfully clear a problem, celebrate it!

Get Started With This 5-Minute Stretch

Ask yourself what problem you have avoided owning that, if owned and addressed, would empower you.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Leadership, Teamwork on 11/18/2013 07:11 am
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