Taking Responsibility = Trouble (Part 2 of 4)

3 minute read

Last week, Billy came into his session five minutes late.  Rubbing his head and apologizing, he voiced his frustration about having yet another conversation with Vicky, his assistant, because she wasn’t following his directions on simple tasks. In his hurried recap, he was using fuzzy language like “we need to get this done soon”.

I called a time-out and helped him recognize the Bubblewrap and Illegal Words he was using and he  jumped up and shook himself out of Autopilot, saying, “Ugh!  I know! I’m being all wishy-washy and fuzzy again! No more of that!”

I chimed in with “No worries–this is part of your practice in setting clear expectations.  You said, ‘We need to get this done soon’ – Who is actually responsible and what’s the deadline?”

Billy responded with “Vicky owns this and it’s due on the 30th.”  

I said, “You’re crystal clear now!  What’s your reluctance that you’re using all that wishy-washy language?” 

“I don’t want to sound like a jerk.”  

Billy was the 3rd leader that day to confess they were worried about how a team member might react and was using a bunch of Bubblewrap to “soften the message.”

Other actual examples sound like this:

“Last time I talked to him about this, he got defensive and just shut down, so I just didn’t say anything.”

“I don’t want them to think I’m a dictator.” 

“My last boss was a tyrant, I don’t want to be like him.” 

If you’re like Billy, you’re accidentally taking responsibility too far.  If you think you’re responsible for how other people feel, you’ve gone into unhealthy territory. Your “high performer behavior” of taking responsibility has turned into trouble.  

If you’re worrying about their feelings, it’s influencing your business decisions and conversations.  You might be tossing fuzzy assignments at them, or failing to give deadlines.  You’re likely not holding people accountable or avoiding giving feedback because you don’t want them to “feel bad”.

These patterns set up a cycle where your team doesn’t improve and your strong players leave.  You keep overworking yourself and getting stressed.

That’s trouble that comes with a big price tag, for you, the team, and the business.

You are not responsible for how your team members feel. They are. And when you stop worrying, you’re not a jerk.  

Repeat after me, “I am responsible for myself & I am responsible to others.”

We’re not suggesting you stop caring altogether.  Like Billy, you can care about others in strong, healthy ways AND not worry about how they might feel.  

Your team members are strong, resilient people who won’t crumble when provided a straightforward assignment or feedback.  In fact, what we see the vast majority of the time is that team members appreciate it.  And they respect the hell outta their manager.

Stop worrying about what you don’t want and start co-creating what you DO want.  

Now go make a ruckus and we’ll see you next time!

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Wingspan partners with leaders around the world to strengthen their behavioral performance and communication. Our approach centers on creating more intentional outcomes by developing healthy behavior systems, more productive interactions, and more meaningful relationships.