“It’s not my fault. That’s not my job. Don’t blame me. It wasn’t my decision. I forgot. I’m too busy to get to that. I thought I told you about that. I told someone else they needed to do that.”
Whether it’s your teenage kids who never seem to find the dishwasher with their dirty glasses, an automobile accident at an intersection or an upset at the plant, people seem to have a set of conditioned responses. Their responses are like reflex actions.
I’ve always valued working with people who have the ability to recognize their roles in disheartening situations. For the parent who is annoyed by the teenager’s inability to find the dishwasher, the parent’s role was in not being more insistent in communicating the importance of cleanliness and respecting others. For the person who was involved in an accident, that person’s role might have been not being a defensive driver, or even the consequence of leaving the house 30 seconds later than planned.
In a plant upset situation, the operations manager who doesn’t own the circumstances might believe an operator was too slow to notice a flow rate or pressure change in a process. In this case, the operations managers who own their circumstances consider the fact that they allowed shortcuts to the new employee orientation program, or that the maintenance manager asked for time to fix a flow rate or pressure sensor alarm last month.
I value working with people who own their roles in situations because at their core they are realists. They see various sides of issues and usually recognize opportunities to improve as a result. Accountable people recognize that they and others might have had a role in the problem; they might be the direct cause of the problem, they might have contributed to the problem or they might have passively allowed it to occur.
The benefit of owning reality is that you get past blame and excuses. When you get past blame and excuses, you can focus on solutions.
In their book, The Oz Principle, Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman use the terms “above the line” and “below the line” to define when someone acts with accountability (above the line) and when that person is stuck in what the authors refer to as the “victim cycle” (below the line). One quote from the book I particularly agree with: “A person who owns his or her circumstances never allows the actions of someone or something else to keep them below the line. Instead, the accountable person accepts whatever ways in which his or her own behavior contributed to the situation and sets about overcoming the circumstances, no matter how difficult.”
To be accountable, you must accept what is. That’s reality. Reality doesn’t care if we’re aware of it or not. Reality exists independently of our judgment and opinions. When we don’t recognize reality or become aware of reality and try to live by what we want the reality to be, we will most often be discouraged or disappointed. People who don’t recognize reality are easily identifiable; they are the ones who complain, blame, judge, resent, worry, regret, control or procrastinate. They are below the line.
When you don’t accept reality, it’s like not knowing about a kick-me sign on your back. You can’t understand why people keep kicking you in the butt. When you get clued into reality, you have choices about what to do with that knowledge. If you know the kick-me sign is on your back, you can, of course, leave it there (not smart) or you can remove the sign and stop getting booted in the butt. When you own your circumstances, you can move beyond negative feelings and defensive actions.
What if you recognize and accept reality, but other persons around you don’t? Aren’t you still going to have people blaming and playing the victim? My answer is “probably.” But your insight will be the path toward at least minimizing the problem. You will be in a better position to influence others and the overall situation. As a result, whether you’re a craftsmen, foreman or manager, you will be seen as more professional and capable than those who don’t embrace reality.
Help others to embrace reality. When problems arise, don’t join in the blame game. Take the high road. Look for solutions that lead to higher value outcomes.
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER Inc. Contact him at email@example.com and (321) 773-3356.