Assume Responsibility

The ABC’s of Professionalism

Every now and again, the subject of rights takes center stage in the public arena.  Human rights, personal rights, maternal rights, rights of the unborn, the right to bear arms, and the right to health care are just a few of the more common topics.  This column deals with the forgotten part of the rights discussion -– responsibility.

“We’ve gotten to the point where everybody’s got a right and nobody’s got a responsibility.” — Newton N. Minow (1926- ), Attorney, former FCC Chair

Perhaps the most famous expression of personal responsibility is President Harry S. Truman’s motto, “The buck stops here!” The record does not say whether this was Truman’s private joke toward political rivals or simply his retort to the very human practice of “passing the buck.”  It was undeniably part of his public persona.  He even had a sign with these words on his White House desk.

buck-stops-here
Image Courtesy of the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

This may be the most powerful and concise statement of personal responsibility of all time.  Here’s another strong, Trumanesque statement:

“If you mess up, ‘fess up.” — Author Unknown

Today, people like to say, “It happened on my watch.” as if to imply, “Please note that I didn’t directly cause the problem, but I’m in charge so I’ll deal with the mess.”  While perhaps true, it seems to contain just a hint of figuratively “passing the buck.”

Discussions about responsibility tend to gravitate toward unfavorable outcomes and the folks stuck with cleaning up the mess.  This is reactive responsibility.   There is another dimension.  One is engaging in proactive responsibility when he acquires sufficient wisdom in advance regarding the probability of certain causes and effects, courageously commits to be personally accountable for all outcomes (good or bad), and moves forward optimistically and prepared with his action plan.  In other words, responsibility includes preparation, commitment, and “pre-action,” not just reaction.  Sounds a lot like the other aspects of professionalism, eh?

Preparation: “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” — G. M. Trevelyan (1876-1962), English historian

Courage: “Responsibility is the thing people dread most of all. Yet it is the one thing in the world that develops us, gives us manhood or womanhood fiber.” — Frank Crane (1861–1928), Minister, columnist

Action: “Actions have consequences…first rule of life. And the second rule is this – you are the only one responsible for your own actions.” — Holly Lisle (1960- ), American novelist, “Fire In The Mist”, 1992

There’s wisdom in the coaching cliche, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”  However, it is also true that there is a lot of “I” in responsibility.  In fact, responsibility exists only at the personal level.  As people band together to form companies, institutions, governments, teams and other organizations, personal responsibility either gets foggy or it completely evaporates, producing unintended negative outcomes and outright corruption.

“Power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages” — Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), English author, poet

“When government accepts responsibility for people, then people no longer take responsibility for themselves.” — George Pataki (1945- ), Former governor of New York

“The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use – of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.” — Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), U.S. Senator, ‘I Remember, I Believe,’ The Pursuit of Justice, 1964

To prevent or eliminate this sort of chaos, each person needs to act like a professional by first remembering that responsibility always remains in the hands of individuals, then willingly claiming responsibility wherever and whenever it is appropriate.

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” — George Burns (1896-1996), American comedian, actor, writer

“You can delegate authority, but not responsibility.” — Stephen W. Comiskey

“‘I must do something’ always solves more problems than ‘Something must be done.'” — Author Unknown

“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say” — Martin Luther (1483-1546), German monk, theologian, church reformer, writer, composer

A professional makes promises and keeps them.  A professional accepts a position of authority and performs to the best of his ability.  A professional speaks inspiring words, then leads by example.  Responsibility begins with words and is fulfilled with deeds.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Political and spiritual leader of India

“Life is a promise; fulfill it.” — Mother Teresa (1910-1997), Albanian Roman Catholic nun, missionary, humanitarian

Deeds produce outcomes.  Positive outcomes are often called results — negative outcomes are euphemistically known as consequences.  When outcomes are good, the responsible professional is humble, shares the credit and moves forward to build on those results.  When outcomes are less favorable, he accepts the blame, makes amends, seeks forgiveness and continues moving forward, but a little bit wiser.

“Failure is nature’s plan to prepare you for great responsibilities.” — Napoleon Hill (1883-1970), American author

“Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices.” — Alfred A. Montapert, American Author

“It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.” — Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)

Personal responsibility is each person’s first prerequisite, especially before attempting to instruct others on this aspect of professionalism.  No irresponsible person can be effective or credible when it comes to promoting responsibility in others.

“If you think taking care of yourself is selfish, change your mind. If you don’t, you’re simply ducking your responsibilities.” — Ann Richards (1933-2006), former Texas Governor

“Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self respect springs.” — Joan Didion (1934- ), “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”

“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” — Jim Rohn (1930- ), American author, entrepreneur, motivational speaker

Your personal responsibility path leads to opportunities to leave a legacy of responsibility for your children and others within your circle of influence.  This includes becoming the best person you can become.

“Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors” — Jonas Salk (1914–1995), American biologist, physician

“Work while you have the light. You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you.” — Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881), Swiss philosopher, poet

“Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.” — Anthony Robbins (1960- ), Motivational speaker

“Every person is responsible for all the good within the scope of his abilities, and for no more” — Gail Hamilton (1833-1896), American writer

Opportunities for responsibility are instrumental in building character.  They should be treated as life’s quizzes, tests, and exams — tools to learn, reinforce, stretch, and provide a progress measurement.

“A new position of responsibility will usually show a man to be a far stronger creature than was supposed.” — William James (1842–1910), American psychologist, philosopher

“Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.” — Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), American educator, author, orator

“If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.” — Abigail Van Buren (1918- ), Advice columnist

Free will allows each person to accept as much or as little responsibility as he sees fit.  But, everyone must be willing to accept some measure of it.  Whereas some will consistently leave responsibility on the table, the professional will rise to the challenge, picking up the slack for the greater good.  The hidden gem for the professional is what he becomes in the process.

“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), German author

“The price of greatness is responsibility.” — Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), British Prime Minister

God bless,

— CC

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© Copyright November 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com

Amazing Grace

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Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism

Here’s a little-used word in business — grace. Except in religious and artistic circles it’s kind of an old-fashioned word.

Sports analysts like to talk about intangibles, which are those miscellaneous factors that influence the outcome of games. Intangibles are always present. But it’s only when the game stats belie the outcome that we look for the intangibles. In sports as in other ventures, intangibles are hard to predict, hard to quantify and hard to describe because they are less obvious. In life, grace is one of those intangibles that can be a difference maker.

“Virtue and genuine graces in themselves speak what no words can utter.” — William Shakespeare

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” — Denis Waitley

Grace Means Being Charming and Refined

The once familiar concept of “ladies and gentlemen” is becoming more and more passé in favor of rude, vulgar and obnoxious public behavior as promoted through television programs like “Married With Children,” “The Simpson’s” and “Roseanne”. These shows are meant to be funny and perhaps they are in a childish sort of way. The blogosphere is another venue where professionalism is being pushed aside by those who seek attention the only way they know — a tantrum of words. The good news is that it is easy to stand out as a professional when the majority has chosen another path.

“I seek constantly to improve my manners and graces, for they are the sugar to which all are attracted.” — Og Mandino (1923-1996)

“We require from buildings, as from men, two kinds of goodness: first, the doing their practical duty well: then that they be graceful and pleasing in doing it; which last is itself another form of duty.” — John Ruskin (1819-1900), The Stones of Venice, 1880

“Remember that it is nothing to do your duty, that is demanded of you and is no more meritorious than to wash your hands when they are dirty; the only thing that counts is the love of duty; when love and duty are one, then grace is in you and you will enjoy a happiness which passes all understanding.” — W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), The Painted Veil, 1925

Grace Under Fire

Seeing a leader maintaining composure in the heat of battle (figurative or literal) is both comforting and inspirational. Conversely, who follows a “leader” who “freaks out” in a pressure-packed situation? A leader ceases to be a leader when he panics.

“Always behave like a duck – keep calm and unruffled on the surface but paddle like the devil underneath.” — Jacob Braude

“Grace under Pressure.” — Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Grace Means “Quiet Strength”

Because of the way our culture views leadership, grace also has the ability to camouflage more prominent traits of professionalism such as strength. Tony Dungy, a successful [American] football coach, led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2007 on a model of strength with grace. Mr. Dungy’s approach refutes the familiar coaching image typified by loudness, boasting and anger. The title of his autobiography, “Quiet Strength,” befits a true professional who exemplifies grace both on and off the football field.

“O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.” — William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Measure for Measure, 1604-1605

“Real strength is not just a condition of one’s muscle, but a tenderness in one’s spirit.” — McCallister Dodds

Grace Means Generosity

True generosity, giving without expecting something in return, is another aspect of grace. Professionalism demands a giving heart.

“Riches may enable us to confer favours, but to confer them with propriety and grace requires a something that riches cannot give.” — Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832), Lacon, 1825

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” — Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)

Grace Means Forgiving

Granting and seeking forgiveness may be the hardest parts of grace because they require an incredible measure of humility. We can all take a lesson from children.

“No one forgives with more grace and love than a child.” — Real Live Preacher, Weblog, 02-15-06

By the Grace of God

Everyone is here on Planet Earth at the pleasure of God. Our talents, resources and our very lives are gracious gifts of the creator. God’s presence in our lives, His love and forgiveness too are acts of grace. While it is likely that there are effective leaders who have no belief in God, it is difficult for me to comprehend anyone becoming a complete professional without an attitude of gratitude and actions that reflect the undeserved, amazing grace of God.

“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” — Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971), in a sermon in 1943

“There but for the grace of God go [I]. — John Bradford, Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.” — Frederick Buechner

God bless,

— CC

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© Copyright September 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com

Opportunist’s Mindset

There is opportunity everywhere for anyone that knows where to look. But, it requires overcoming a downstream mentality. Generally, people see only the downstream opportunities because that’s where they look. Downstream destinations appear easier to reach. The reality is that most of the best opportunities lie upstream. Paddling upstream might seem to be the harder route when in actuality it can be the easier route. Why? Because most people point their boats downstream. Consequently, there’s less traffic upstream. It’s much easier to compete when the majority has gone in the opposite direction.

“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.” — Sam Ewing

“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes.” — John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” — Peter Drucker

“Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work. But if you’re not frightened by these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were.” — David Rockefeller

There is also opportunity galore for those with a hurdler’s mindset. Hurdlers excel by becoming proficient at leaping over barriers. They don’t stop at the hurdles and they don’t turn back. They don’t try to go around, under, or through the hurdles. They know the only way to win the race is to leap over hurdles as fast as possible. In fact, the high achievers don’t even break stride. Life is full of hurdles called sickness, layoff, high interest rates, a weak dollar, a strong dollar, a volatile stock market, high gas prices, a grumpy boss, a whiny neighbor, discrimination, lack of cooperation, an irate customer, a flat tire, a flooded basement, etc. Stuff happens to us all, even our pets.

“My dog is worried about the economy because Alpo is up to 99 cents a can. That’s almost $7.00 in dog money.” — Joe Weinstein

Being a winner in the game of life requires forward momentum and getting over the hurdles quickly. Proficiency takes preparation. A practice regimen involves mastering the small hurdles. This helps make the larger hurdles seem less daunting. Confidence grows and suddenly life’s opportunities appear from the shadows of the conquered hurdles.

“The only thing that overcomes hard luck is hard work.” — Harry Golden (1902 – 1981)

“Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too.” — Lawrence Bixby

“People always call it luck when you’ve acted more sensibly than they have.” — Anne Tyler (1941 – ), Celestial Navigation

“Luck is what you have left over after you give 100 percent.” — Langston Coleman

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” — Booker T. Washington (1856 – 1915)

Whenever confronted by one of life’s hurdles, we must “get over it” to finish the race. There’s one more very important thing. It’s not against the rules to help someone else over a life hurdle. In fact, it’s a responsibility.

God Bless,

— CC