Who is responsible?

On February 26, 2012, in Monday Motivator, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
“The person who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.”— Lou Holtz

Someone asked me the other day if I wasn’t outraged about Facebook’s privacy issues. “Did you read their terms of service,” I asked?

They avoided a direct answer. “Read the news,” they responded,”people are leaking our personal information everywhere.”

“Then why do you give it to them?”

We have a bad habit of broadly sharing our secrets and then are surprised when they aren’t kept. A growing number of websites encourage you to enter by authenticating with your Facebook or Twitter credentials. In many cases, when you do this you’re giving them permission to grab everything in your profile and add this information to their databases.

Same goes for the blind trust we have for authority. If a doctor tells you something that you don’t understand, do you get a second opinion? If someone says, “It can’t be done,” do you accept it?

One of the root causes for the high prices we pay for everything from the products we buy to the insurance we carry is our  penchant for acting without due dilligence and suing if we don’t like the outcome.  It’s easy to indict our predecessors for our uncomfortable present situation. But as Doug Larson wryly notes, “The reason people blame things on the previous generation is that there’s only one other choice.”

“Success on any major scale,” writes Michael Korda, “requires you to accept responsibility. In the final analysis, this is the one quality that all successful people have in common.”

What this means is this: Test the temperature of your coffee before you drink it. Test drive the car before you buy it. Get to know your significant other before you get married. Research a company thoroughly before you choose to work there. Know your candidate thoroughly before you vote. Understand the risks before you sign the surgical release form.

Do your homework.

The same things apply when you’re entrusted with authority. When you take on the mantle of leading a team, you also take responsibility for outcomes. George Washington Carver may have put it best when he said, “Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.” Some business leaders may place blame for their failures on others while continuing to reap big paychecks even as their companies struggle. Politicians might hope to keep their jobs by attributing any sad state of affairs to the other party while they seek your vote to continue a culture of finger-pointing and gridlock.

One of my favorite maxims is, “the fish stinks from the head back.” So when your CEO or your congressman spends more time blaming than doing, perhaps it’s time to associate your self with a new fish. If you don’t, you can’t complain about the smell.

This doesn’t mean that we throw everybody off the bus when the ride gets bumpy. Progress happens in fits and starts, often with two steps forward and three steps backward. People are imperfect and sometimes good ones make mistakes and deserve a second chance. This is how we learn. What’s important is making your own judgements based on the best possible data. And taking responsibility for what happens next.

As you approach the many crossroads ahead, remember:

  • We always get what we demand. Demand excellence.
  • When you lead, you can delegate authority, but never responsibility. Be personally accountable.
  • Before you make any major decision, do your homework and accept responsibility for the outcome.

Life requires that we give a certain amount of command and control to others. But at the end of the day, the extent of our happiness and our suffering is determined by one person and one person alone.


Have a great week!

Feedback always welcome to scott@spartanology.com

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