Why Being Personally Responsible Can Make You a Powerful Leader

PsychologyBy Leslie Cunningham and Jim Bergquist

A friend of mine was recalling a memory from her college psychology course… her professor would present various photographs and ask the students to interpret what they thought was occurring in each image.

He showed the class a photo of a man in bed, and a woman outside the bedroom door crying.

“What do you think is happening in this photo?”  He asked.

One classmate said, “She’s crying because her husband is really sick and she’s afraid he’s going to die.”

Another shared, “They’ve had a really bad argument and the woman is crying because she’s upset.”

My friend replied, “She’s crying because her husband is an alcoholic and he’s unable to get out of bed to go to work.”

Next, the professor showed the class a photograph of a small group of people talking to an angry individual.  “What’s happening in this photo?” He inquired.

One student said, “He’s mad because other people aren’t listening to him.”

Another stated, “He’s mad because his friends have offended him.”

My friend replied, “He’s angry because he did something bad when he was drinking and his family is upset.”

th-1She laughed awkwardly as she recalled her comments.  Then, her eyes lit up.  “It’s funny, I couldn’t see at the time that I was interpreting all those scenarios through the lens of alcoholism because I had an alcoholic parent!  I was blind to the fact that my personal struggles growing up were impacting how I perceived every situation in my life.

Each of us does this naturally and automatically – as if on autopilot.

Without realizing it we constantly interpret every situation in our business, or organization; with our employees, team members and colleagues, through our personal experience and limited perceptive.

Most of us are unaware that we are interpreting our situations and circumstances through a skewed filter. 

Just like my friend, who was unable to see at the time that she was interpreting all the situations in her life through the lens of alcoholism – only in hindsight could she see this.

One of the attributes of powerful leaders is their willingness to take responsibility and ownership for “their” situation(s).

MandelaSusan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had nothing to do with the fact that society had evolved in a way that women had few rights and limited social standing.

They established the Women’s Suffrage Movement and began the empowerment of women in the U.S. and ultimately, the entire world!

Gandhi had nothing to do with the British colonizing India. Nonetheless, he took responsibility for the situation and had them leave India peacefully.

Mandela didn’t create apartheid, yet by taking responsibility for the situation, was able to lead South Africa through a period of truth-telling, forgiveness, and reconciliation… and a new future.

When we choose to take personal responsibility, we gain access to a world of creativity and possibility that is otherwise not available.

If you find that you have taken on an interpretation that “my husband is the problem” or “my business is not doing well because of the economy,” or “it’s my employee’s fault”, you have forfeited your power. You have turned it over to the world of circumstances and lost the ability to create your own future.

You can’t be effective in your situation so long as you choose to believe that you are the victim of everyone and everything else.

Be powerful and effective with the situation… claim ownership of your interpretations and perceptions… become the author of your own experience.

And remember, this doesn’t make it “true or not true”, and it doesn’t make you “right or wrong”… it’s simply the path that gives you access to your own personal power and will produce extraordinary results.

How to apply this principle to a situation in your business or life

take_action1.  What’s a situation that you’re currently struggling with in your business?

2.  Examination – What’s the interpretation that you’re giving to that situation?

3.  What are some new, more empowering interpretations you could give your situation? Keep inventing interpretations until you create one that gives you a new sense of freedom and power.

4.  Are you willing to commit fully to this new meaning?

IF YES: In committing to your new interpretation, what is an action you can take in the next 24 hours that expresses your commitment?

IF NO: Examination – What’s the payoff?

What are you making more important than your own creative power and freedom? Are you willing to let it go… to give it up… to forgive others (or yourself)… whatever is required… are you willing?

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