Soft Skills: Teaching Personal Responsibility

In any situation, there are factors beyond our control. For example, I feel gravity and time are constantly holding me back! And in any situation there are factors within our control: Our own thoughts, words, and actions. Almost anyone can focus on those outside factors or those inside factors. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that most people – of all ages – have a tendency to point to outside factors beyond the control of the individual when explaining their own short-comings and failures, not to mention the successes of others. Funny enough, most people also have a strong tendency to point to factors within the direct control of the individual when it comes to our own successes as well as the failures and short-comings of others. So at least the good news is that most people know how to focus on factors within the control of the individual. It’s just that we take our focus off those factors when we make excuses, blame others, and complain.

When it comes to teaching personal responsibility, the key is keeping the focus on factors within the control of the individual. Teaching them to ask themselves every step of the way: What is within my control right now? Where will I focus my attention and energy? What are my options? What’s the plan? What are my next steps? What are my next thoughts, words, and actions?

Help your young employees take greater personal responsibility by learning to stay focused on concrete actions within their own control.

Consider the following factors that people in the workplace commonly list when asked to brainstorm factors that get in their way at work:

  • Resource constraints — insufficient information, people, material, or tools
  • Limited time
  • Too much work
  • Other people not doing their part
  • Things are constantly changing
  • Competing priorities
  • Distance
  • Weather
  • Company policies, rules, regulations, and procedures
  • The way things have always been done around here
  • Too many low priority distractions
  • Interruptions
  • Conflict between and among employees
  • My manager is often unavailable
  • Unclear lines of authority
  • I answer to too many different people
  • Inconsistency from one manager to another

First: Can you think of a recent example? Exactly how did this factor get in your way? When? Where? Who was involved? What happened?

Second: Ask yourself: What did you do? What could you have done differently in retrospect? What were your options? What thoughts, words, and actions could you have taken?

Third: Now look ahead: Can you anticipate this factor getting in your way in the future? When is that likely to happen? Where? Who might be involved? What do you think is likely to happen? How will you respond? What options will you have? What thoughts, words, and/or actions are available to you? What can you do to improve the outcome?

Learn to use the “response power” mantra: Focus on the list of problems/obstacles that get in your way at work. Now take those items on your list, one by one, and practice applying the “response power” mantra: “What’s outside my control? What’s inside my control? (My own thoughts, words, actions) What are my options? What are my next steps?”

Ask yourself:

  • What’s outside my control?
  • What’s inside my control? (My own thoughts, words, actions)
  • What are my options?
  • What are my next steps?

Consider the question, “What about those times when there really is nothing you can do?”

Consider the following: If there is really ‘nothing’ you can do, then why are you still thinking about it? Why are you still talking about it? Focus on something you CAN do.