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Coping with Responsibility

Developing Our Response-ability

By Lenny Konschwewitz

“Responsibility is the price of greatness.” (Winston Churchill)

Winston Churchill grew up under difficult circumstances. It is said that his father hardly knew him (or even his age at any given time), that his mother was an adulteress, he was sickly and weak from birth, he almost died of pneumonia when he was 11 years old, he was prone to rashes, boils and hives which is why he had to wear silky underwear (attracting plenty of ridicule from his classmates), he had a speech impairment, etc. The list goes on.

Who could have imagined of young Winston that one day he would become one of the greatest leaders the modern world had ever seen? And yet today countless biographies and, in recent memory, a few blockbusters have featured this very remarkable leader. Of all the things that can be learned from Winston Churchill in terms of leadership there is one thing that stands out to me, especially given the challenges he faced in formative years. It is something that most great leaders have in common: a healthy sense of “responsibility”. Or, to put it differently, the ability to respond to life’s circumstances rather than react. So, just for today, let’s call it “response-ability”.

Developing the ability to respond well is crucial to our success as leaders in any given context. How do we do that? How do we learn to respond rather than react?

Most importantly, we need to understand that we always have a choice. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we always get to control our response. Nobody aside from us is responsible for the thoughts we entertain, the words we speak or the habits we have.

Have you ever intentionally stepped back to notice how things we say or do affect the atmosphere around us? Our responses can be great tools of influence (= leadership) if they come from a place of self-control. Alternatively, we can react

  1. lash out, and let our emotions lead the way. Don’t be deceived – this kind of behaviour also influences our environment and peoples’ confidence in us.

Note that our responses and choices are rooted in our personal values and self-perception. Whatever is inside of us (values) will ‘leak’ out of us (responses), especially when circumstances squeeze us! For this reason, our goal should always be to be greater in the inside than on the outside.

One important barrier we need to overcome as we develop our response-ability is a victim mentality.

Winston Churchill is a classic example of someone who had plenty of reasons to blame others for his misfortune in life. But he made a powerful choice to take life by its horns and avoid the trap of becoming a victim. People like him know that when challenges arise victims react, but leaders respond.

A victim mentality comes from the assumption that we are powerless. Leaders who feel powerless struggle to take responsibility. This is where the root of the issue of bad leadership lies. Great leaders know how to control themselves and their inner world.

A victim’s language consists of blaming self (introverts are prone to fall into this trap, and it often leads to depression), blaming others (even becoming aggressive and lashing out), blaming circumstances, and/or complaining and making excuses: “I’m too poor. I’m the wrong ethnicity. I’m too stupid. I have a disorder (many “disorders” have to do with unforgiveness…), I was born this way.”

Leaders, on the other hand, are self-controlled, ‘own’ their mistakes when they’ve made them, and choose words that ultimately help the situation. Since victims feel powerless and paralyzed by their circumstances, they will stay stuck and repeat their mistakes. Leaders know how to tap into their creative potential and find solutions.

A great leadership attitude to have is “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” (John C. Maxwell) The victim will look for excuses when he loses. The leader will take ownership and learn. If we want to overcome a victim mindset, we need to grow out of it by learning from our mistakes and moving forward in life.

Is there an area in your life in which you feel stuck and unproductive?

Do you tend to make excuses when certain challenges arise or are you able to take ownership and nurture a creative, solution-oriented attitude?

What have you learned from your last mistake?

Ask people around you how they perceive your response-ability. What do they say?

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