Learn From JetBlue and Steven Slater: Taking Responsibility Will Prevent Feelings of Obligation

I’m going to make an exception to one of my practices: I normally refrain from publicly using the Leadership Gift to analyze current affairs. It would be so easy for me: every day some prominent journalist or blogger bellows, “When will [insert reviled public figure] stand up and take responsibility for this mess?!” and I could cite it and show how the person bellowing about responsibility is doing so from a mental position of blaming others.

about to step on a banana peelI don’t usually comment on current affairs because I know and teach that the Responsibility Process is only effective when self-applied. People across all political and religious persuasions are avid consumers of the Leadership Gift Program for Leaders and I don’t want to politicize it or take sides by pointing out how public figures and journalists fall below the line. Using this platform to apply the Responsibility Process to the endless drama called the news would send the wrong message about how to practice responsibility. Already more than enough people believe they are experts about who should be called out on avoiding responsibility —  I don’t wish to join that chorus.

The JetBlue Steven Slater Incident Offers a Unique Window into Our Collective Mindset

I’m not interested in analyzing Steven Slater’s behavior, rather, I want to comment on the collective response — the overwhelming support he received from many people who identified with him. The situation with Slater presents a unique opportunity to show how the mindset of obligation is pervasive in our society and how applying the steps of the Responsibility Process would have helped here.

The truth is, most of us avoid rather than take responsibility as a way to cope with upset – and many become the news by doing so.

Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who used the public address system to curse at passengers and then deployed the emergency slide to exit the aircraft, has become a folk hero. Unhappy employees everywhere identify with his I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore stand against the alleged oppression. The media outlets and blogosphere are alive with celebrations of Slater’s actions.

In my view, that’s a telling and unfortunate celebration.

The Sad, Slow Burn of Obligation

The way I see it, people who are identifying with Steven Slater are acknowledging that they, too, are unhappily stuck in the mindset of Obligation, just as he was. It appears they presume

  • they have to work in a situation they don’t want (presumably for the paycheck)
  • they are trapped and have no other choice (for acceptable income)
  • there is nothing they can do short of a satisfying but self-sabotaging “up yours” act like Slater’s

So Slater makes a flamboyant public display and interestingly, people everywhere identify with him and celebrate him. It feels good to join in the chorus and release some of that pent-up frustration. I know. I understand it. I’ve been there.

Applying the Responsibility Process to the Steven Slater Incident

Most people go to work day after day just to get a paycheck. And they pay the price — every unsatisfying moment of every day adds another toxic trace of resentment. And resentment is expensive, it saps your energy and resourcefulness. It leaves you thinking that brilliance is flipping off your employer and customers in a graphic display of I Quit.

…leaves you thinking that brilliance is flipping off your employer and customers in a graphic display of “I Quit”

Quit is a mental position we take when the pain of Shame or Obligation is unbearable. So we disengage, sometimes we quietly check out mentally from a valueless meeting we have to attend, or when the resentment builds up, we violently lash out and tell someone off. That’s the mental position of Quit in the Responsibility Process. We go there because we don’t know how to take ownership of the situation and produce the result we want, and because the pain of Shame or Obligation is unbearable.

If You Identify With Steven Slater, Think Again

The most responsible folks I know, including many who practice the Leadership Gift, did identify with Slater, yet they did not celebrate his actions. They remembered the point in their own life when they became aware of their sense of obligation but instead of quitting they had the tools to be aware of those feelings and used the tools to change course in a positive manner.

If you identify with Slater, please know this: the mindset of Obligation and the accompanying resentment are normal parts of being human. They just aren’t resourceful mindsets that help you to make things better. It is not my intention to make you feel bad, it is my intention to show you how powerful you are in either keeping yourself stuck or propelling yourself forward. The truth is we are far more powerful than we usually give ourselves credit for.

People stuck in Obligation is a multi-trillion dollar problem in our professional economy — you can start to change that for yourself, the people you lead, and the people you love by making Responsibility your preferred response to everything in your life.

You can learn more about how to do this with the help of the Responsibility Process.

In an upcoming post I’ll show you how to deal with Obligation so that you can transform have to into want to in all areas of your life.

Posted in Responsibility on 08/19/2010 09:33 am
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