Step Up and Take Ownership…Here is How!

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How may times have you run into a problem, big or small, and for one reason or another NOT tackled the problem? Do you get stuck somehow? Christopher Avery says that the reason is probably that you have NOT taken Responsibility (and he also clearly articulates why Accountability is NOT Responsibility).

Christopher’s model is pretty straightforward and the diagram on the left illustrates how it works:

Responsibility is all about how we respond when things go wrong (perhaps it should be called RESPONDsibility).

Christopher’s explanation begins when you run into a problem (large or small). Christopher says that research indicates that we all respond with the same series of coping mechanisms:

– We deny that the problem exists, which causes us not to address the problem, OR

– We blame someone else (someone else did something that caused this problem) which stops us from addressing the problem because we can’t change the other person or otherwise assume that we can’t address the problem, OR

– We justify why the problem is not a problem or why it is okay that the problem exists (for example: “this is just the way that we do things around here”). Our minds makes up a rationale for why the problem is “just” in our minds. Again, we assume that the cause is not in our control and therefore we can’t address the problem and stop, OR

– We finally figure out that the problem is not outside of our control, so we put the blame on ourselves, leading to shame. We essentially are moving the blame from external to internal (from someone else to us). Essentially, we beat ourselves up and you are not likely to learn or be resourceful because of the mental pain of all of the shame. Christopher’s point is that blaming ourselves is NOT taking responsibility. Taking responsibility is actually moving to addressing the problem.

– If we are not blaming ourselves and creating shame, then we may move to not addressing the problem because we feel trapped with obligation. We “have to” do something that we don’t want to do. When we are stuck in the mindset of obligation, our performance is barely adequate to get a “pass” with our results. We are not going to do anything more than we have to do, so our results are okay but not great.

– Note that the quit state in the diagram is the steam valve that opens up when the pain of shame or obligation is too great and we don’t know how to take ownership. We mentally check out and disengage. It is too painful to be present, so we check out mentally and “roll our own home movies”.

– If we can get out of all the other states, then we can get to the state of responsibility. The state of responsibility is where we feel free to choose. We feel resourceful and clear on actions that we can take to move things forward. We understand what we can do to move things forward.

Christopher also points out that the smarter we are, the more great stories that we make up to not address the problem. There are six ways to get stuck and only one way to be unstuck. The problem is when we get stuck on any of the items that are not taking true responsibility then we are not in the flow and we are not in a learning state. The stuck states are coping mechanisms and people are generally conditioned to get stuck in one of the six and not make it to a true responsible state.

Christopher’s basic belief is that you can get to a better point of taking responsibility by:

– Truly understanding your intention. If you want to be more responsible, then just be clear in your mind that you are going to intentionally take responsibility for something (you are going to own it).

– Increasing your awareness of your state (are you stuck in a state other than taking responsibility?) Just pay attention to your mental state and gain a better understanding of where you are.

Confront the situation and try to get out of the stuck state (beware that you might end up in another stuck state). This is 1000 times more difficult that the first two points, as you need to confront the fact that you have things to learn and insights to find. You learn to do this incrementally.

Christopher has some really interesting things to say, and says them pretty well in this video from InfoQ. Christopher explains his responsibility framework a bit better in this video (this is a Webex replay and the meat of it starts around the 12 minute point).

Btw, I thought that this article on Christopher’s book was pretty interesting as well. It is all related (link to his book here).

My observation is that very few people actually “get things done” and that entrepreneurs probably in general are better at staying in the responsible state and getting things done than the general population. When we meet expansion stage CEOs and management teams, there is generally at least one person on the team (usually the founder/CEO) that has taken a high degree of responsibility. Christopher has started applying his approaches to agile product and development teams (as you will see in the videos) and has also started using the Agile Development and Lean Process vocabularies. (He doesn’t talk about it in the videos or on his website or blog, but I assume that he has also applied his principles to recruiting support as well.)