Self-Responsibility: The Key to Sustained Productivity

You have valued employees with the know-how, the passion, and the instincts that fit the job. But their productivity is inconsistent, sometimes up and sometimes down. It puzzles you as a leader who desires to get the best out of everyone.

The biggest cause of this inconsistency is emotional reactivity. We will be sidetracked if we become reactive. Our focus goes from the task at hand to the relationship power struggle. Feelings, not facts, become all consuming. Productivity goes out the window. I have seen this happen so often that I decided to look for the antidote to emotional reactivity. I found it: self-responsibility. But can we teach it in a meaningful and cost-effective way? We can indeed.

What is self-responsibility? There is a simple definition: We are self-responsible when we own our thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions. The code for understanding self-responsibility lies in our view of cause and effect: "What causes our thoughts, feelings, and decisions?"

For 98 percent of the population, the answer is the outside world -— you, it, them, and those. In a word, events! Events are those things that happen outside of me -— things I see, hear, and touch. The moment I believe that what I feel is caused by what you say or do, I have become a victim. The victim mindset destroys self-responsibility. I am no longer responsible for my thoughts and feelings. You are. That is the basis of emotional reactivity: "You made me angry. You hurt me." At this point, employees go from task to relationship focus. Productivity goes down instantly.

So how do I teach self-responsibility? By telling employees that the universe is divided into two worlds: the inside world and the outside world. The inside is subjective -— the unseen world of thoughts, feelings, and decisions. The outside is objective -— the world of location: facts and events occurring outside of us. And here is the question again: Does the outside cause the inside? How we answer this is critical to the training of self-responsibility. The victim mindset will say the outside events cause us to think and feel in certain ways and these lead to our decisions and actions. The mastery mindset is based on the opposite answer. The Big Idea is that the outside world does not define me. I define me.

Instilling the Mastery Mindset
To instill the mastery mindset, I use a simple metaphor that we can easily evoke in the minds of those we manage. It is the pebble-ripple metaphor. Pebbles represent the events in our lives. Events are like pebbles thrown into our pond (the self). Ripples are our interior responses: our thoughts, feelings, and decisions. In the physical world, pebbles seem to "cause" ripples. If we use that as our model of cause and effect, then what you say or do can cause me to feel good or feel angry. You did it; I'm just responding (victim).

Let's turn that idea on its head. Even in the physical world pebbles trigger ripples, but they do not create them. Throw a pebble into a pond, and we will indeed get ripples. Throw the same pebble on a wooden floor and we hear a thud and feel a vibration. No ripples. Throw the same pebble on a carpet and we get an entirely different response. The difference is not the pebble (event), but the nature of the responder. The response comes from the responder. With humans, the relationship between event and response is even more fluid. Different people will respond differently to the same event. The responder creates the response. Self-responsibility is owning your response -— beautiful or ugly.

Imagine an organizational culture where all members share the belief that I am responsible for all of my actions regardless of the events -— the good, the bad, and the ugly. Imagine then a supervisor asking an employee to describe the facts (pebbles) and then holding the person responsible for all of her responses. No excuses. No explanations are taken as justification for those responses, regardless of how poorly she was treated. At the same time, the other person is held responsible for all of his actions. That shared idea becomes part of the cultural DNA of the company. In other words, for self-responsibility to catch the motivation and commitment of individual employees, the idea and the language need to become part of the cultural fabric of the group.

People will still be emotionally reactive, but it will no longer be "accommodated" by incorrect thinking about cause and effect. All of the leaders and managers will need to be trained to understand, articulate, practice, and apply the concept embodied in the pebble-ripple image. This becomes the basis of sustained productivity. Without self-responsibility as the foundation of the culture, high performance will be sporadic.

Ramon Corrales is a life and leadership coach who has spent many years working in self-development, organizational development, and team building. Corrales spent a number of years as a family therapist and is passionate about teaching others techniques for great leadership and successful relationships. He is the author of "Of Pebbles & Grenades: 3 Keys to Self-Mastery." For more information, visit

Posted by Ramon G. Corrales on May 10, 2012

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