Seeds of Greatness: Roots & Wings
Course 4 – Personal Responsibility – Positive Self-Determination
Please listen to the audio file first in each section as it contains greater detail than the written text. Then follow the instructions, if any, at then end of each lesson.
Lesson 1: Redefining Responsibility
Throughout the first half of our lives, we assumed that the idea of personal responsibility was widely understood. Our travels over the past twenty-five years—interviewing, lecturing, counseling, observing, and listening—have convinced us it is a vanishing concept, especially in the Western culture.
Responsibility is the forgotten side of freedom. In the developing nations, we have talked to thousands of young men and women, many desperate to seize educational and economic opportunities and to escape the oppression of their environmental conditions or governments. They told us what they most wanted was what America represented to them—the freedom to be as uncommonly successful as they wanted to be—and they were willing to work to attain that.
But when we interview immigrants who have spent some time in America, we find that their greatest cultural shock comes from discovering that many Americans are trying to escape to the very things they were escaping from. While the immigrants yearn to be free to work and grow according to their own visions, many Americans prefer being cared for by the system. We in the industrialized nations are becoming security-seekers, in search of guarantees and entitlements, rather than the risk-takers and pioneers who built our incredible free-market economy.
Responsibility is badly in need of redefinition. For a start, let’s look at the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition:
Responsibility, n. 1. The state, quality or fact of being responsible. 2. A thing or person that one is answer- able for, a duty, obligation or burden. Responsible, adj. 1. Legally or ethically accountable for the care of or welfare of another. 2. Involving personal accountability or ability to act without guidance or superior authority. 3. Being the source or cause of something. 4. Capable of making moral or rational decisions on one’s own, and therefore answerable for one’s behavior. 5. Able to be trusted or depended upon; reliable. 6. Based upon or characterized by good judgment or sound thinking. 7. Having the means to pay debts or fulfill obligations. 8. Required to render account; answerable.
Our friend and colleague Stephen Covey defines it in his own way. “Look at the word responsibility: response-ability—the ability to choose your response,” wrote Stephen in his best-selling The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “Highly proactive people recognize individual responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feelings.”
Lesson 2: Cause and Effect
Everyone likes to talk about freedom of choice. After all, that’s one of the principles on which our nation was founded. But we often tend to feel that much of what we must do in life has been forced on us. Is that true? Must you pay taxes? Not really. You can earn too little to qualify, try to fool the IRS, give up your citizenship, go to prison, or invest in tax deferral programs that last until your death—after which your heirs can pay your taxes. You have to work late tonight? Not exactly. You don’t have to. Many people feel compelled to work late at the office. However, those who understand positive self-determination choose to do that occasionally because they feel they have commitments that require important things to be accomplished. Leaders realize that working forty hours a week is usually enough to make a living—and also understand that their success depends on a good deal more.
We really don’t have to do much of anything. We choose to do the things we do because they’re profitable to us and the best choices among the alternatives. People who feel they must do things usually forfeit many available options, losing control of their lives in the bargain. But those who are aware that they have the power of decision—that they exert control over what hap- pens to them—can choose more effective responses to change and to life’s offerings. (Note the word response again.) Incidentally, the second category of people is also generally happier.
Unfortunately, we’re living in an age of eroding responsibility. Although most people are willing to fight for the credit when good things happen, fewer and fewer want to accept responsibility for their own actions. The “Why me?” so often heard today should be “Try me!” “Try me, I can handle it.” “Give me the chance and I’ll do the job.” Blaming others—parents, bosses, companies, immigrants, fate, weather, bad luck, the government, or the horoscope—is a mark of a juvenile mind. The mature mind asks what is within me that caused this to happen. “What did I fail to consider? What can I do better next time?” Instead of contemplating what’s ticking inside them, blame-fixers focus on what’s going on around them. It’s always easier to assume the faults lie elsewhere.
Rather than remorse and apology or determination to face the consequences, the common response to lapses and failures is to blame one’s upbringing or other circumstances. Today’s philosophy often seems to be, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you place the blame!” In our age of euphemism, the drug addict has become “chemically dependent.” The delinquent is suffering from “a behavioral disorder caused by preexisting conditions.” And ever-greater numbers of murderers plead insanity, convincing ever-greater numbers of juries.
But one way or another, our actions cause consequences. “To every action,” as Sir Isaac Newton observed, “there is always opposed an equal reaction.” Good begets good and evil leads to more evil. This is one of the universe’s eternal, fundamental truths: the law of cause and effect. It means that every cause (action) will create an effect (reaction) approximately equal in intensity. Making good use of our minds, skills, and talents will bring positive rewards in our outer lives. Assuming the personal responsibility to make the best use of our talents and time will result in an enormous gain in happiness, success, and wealth. This is true of everyone.
Responsibility psychology is a field of study pioneered by Abraham Maslow and carried on by Carl Rogers, William Glasser, Viktor Frankl, David McClelland, Albert Bandura, Nathaniel Branden, and other prominent scientists. It holds that irresponsibility and the lack of values leads to abnormal behavior, neurosis, and mental deterioration. Treatment for victims of those afflictions focuses on showing them that they are responsible for their present actions and future behavior, although they need not be hung up on the past. This school of psychology is optimistic about human growth and potential. Its practitioners have found that when neurotics are helped to assume personal responsibility, the prognosis for recovery is good. Case after case has demonstrated that responsible self-control leads to sound mental health.
Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs recognize that an individual must admit that there is a problem before he or she can begin to change. Admission of a problem can’t come with a finger pointed at other people or external conditions. It means accepting responsibility for one’s difficulties and making a genuine effort to change. We’re fond of a story from the Old Testament book of Leviticus about a sacred ceremony called “The Escaped Goat.” When the people’s troubles became overwhelming in those early days, a healthy male goat was led into the temple. The tribe’s highest priest placed his hand on the animal’s head and solemnly recited the long list of the people’s woes. Then the goat was released—and it ran off, supposedly taking the human troubles and evil spirits with him. That was some four thousand years ago, but the concept of the scapegoat remains in full force today. Blaming someone else or something else for our problems is nearly as old as civilization—and stays consistently young. When Adam ate of the apple, he quickly pointed at Eve. “The woman you’ve put here with me made me do it,” he said.
Lesson 3: Immediate Gratification
We live in a land of incredible abundance with material riches and a civic and legal inheritance that people of other countries continue to die for. To those willing to think about it, satellite projections of conditions in Eastern Europe, The Middle East, Africa, India, Haiti, and other tortured regions continue to remind the world of priceless rights. We protest for individual liberty and social order in the same breath. We strive for material wealth, hoping that spiritual riches will come with it as a bonus. We plead for more protection from crime but demand less interference in our social habits. We want to cut taxes and build our own empires—at the same time, we want our government to provide more financial security. But we can’t have it both ways. If we want results, we must pay the price. So far we’ve been dealing with the symptoms. The secret is in changing the cause.
The various separate causes of most of our social problems are underscored by one major cause: the irresponsible obsession with immediate sensual gratification. We want love without commitment. We want benefit packages without productivity requirements. Increasingly, we want children who demand little more from us in the way of leadership than our pets do. This is selfishness and narcissism in action. Pain, sacrifice, and effort—the attitudes and resolve that truly made America great—are increasingly unacceptable to many. If at first you don’t succeed, fix the blame. If it feels good now, just do it, baby. To achieve emotional security, each of us must develop two critical abilities: the ability to live with change and uncertainty, and the ability to delay immediate gratification for the sake of long-range goals.
As the respective parents of many children, including birth children, step-children and adopted children, we know that the greatest gifts parents can give their children—and that business and other leaders can give their team members—are roots and wings that we refer to as core concepts in this program. Roots lie in core values and feelings of self-worth. Wings grow from acceptance of responsibility, which enables our children to fly freely as independent adults. The loss of roots and wings too often leads to pursuit of “loot and things,” and other tragic results.
In a very real sense, we all become hostages of hundreds of restrictions of our own choosing. As children, we either accepted or rejected the teachings and lifestyles of the significant adults in our lives. As teenagers and young adults, many of us felt a need to conform to the standards of our peers. While fooling ourselves into thinking we were being different, we were actually as regimented as an army calling cadence and marching in full-dress uniform.
To be responsible leaders, we must understand that being different is admirable and valuable if:
- It means higher personal and professional standards of behavior.
- It means putting more time and effort into everything you do.
- It means taking calculated risks.
Life’s greatest risk is depending on others for your security, which can really come only by planning, acting, and making choices that will make you independent.
Lesson 4: Unhook Your Prejudices
Talking to leaders, one line comes up again and again. “Everyone told me I was crazy, but I went ahead and did it anyway.” Everyone told Fred Smith he was crazy to start an overnight package express service. “There’s no market for it,” some warned. “The Civil Aeronautics Board will never approve it,” insisted others. “You’ll never be able to find reliable couriers.” “If there were a market for such a service, the major airlines would already be offering it.” Needless to say, Smith did it anyway, which is why we—by the thousands and thousands—send Federal Express packages every day. If someone hasn’t told you lately that your ideas are crazy, you haven’t been doing much independent thinking. Self-leadership doesn’t rest on playing it safe or on always doing things the same old way. Leadership ideas that solve problems and create opportunity come from creative trial- and-error thinking. They require us to challenge our assumptions, think outside previous boundaries, and take constant risks.
In short, they require us to unhook our prejudices. A prejudice is a judgment or opinion reached before the facts are known or maintained after the facts have changed. Ridding our thinking of prejudices is more critical than ever because they limit our ability to respond effectively to change. Prejudice limits vision. It keeps us focused on what already exists or on something that we imagine exists when it does not, rather than on what might exist. Prejudice stifles creativity. It insists that there is only one correct way of looking at problems when there are often many ways. Prejudice prevents problem-spotting. Often leaders solve problems that aren’t even clearly identified—they’re simply “the way things are” and therefore the way people believe they have to be. Before Fred Smith visualized Federal Express, people didn’t consider the lack of an overnight express service a na- tional problem. They simply thought, “I’m in trouble. This package is supposed to be on Smithers’s desk in Denver tomorrow. I sure wish there were some way of getting it there by then.” Prejudice restricts the inflow of information. Prejudiced people choose to believe that they have all the relevant facts rather than open their minds to other ideas.
Heading the list of “prejudice ruts” that leaders and parents must avoid are: The Rut of Average, the Rut of Conventional Wisdom, and the Rut of Group-Think.
The Rut of Average. We live in a society in which average is good enough for most. Punching in at 9:00 A.M., workers begin a countdown until 5:00 P.M. For many managers, too, the job seems an interruption between weekends. “Don’t work too hard” is a popular slogan. The student who studies diligently and does well in school is often considered anti-social and out of step with the cool in-crowd. The businessman or businesswoman who assumes all the risks and responsibility is resented. Excellence is almost frowned upon. The right to become unequal by choice—to climb toward a pinnacle—is submerged in an insistence that all individuals are entitled to equal results. While few are upset when millions are won on the lottery, more people feel ambivalent toward the man or woman who has made a fortune through uncommon efforts. It’s almost as if the “winners” are irritating reminders of what each of us might be if we were willing to stop hiding in our peer group.
Mediocrity’s only socially redeeming feature is regularity—constancy. It’s muddling through from birth to death with the least inconvenience, giving no highs, no lows, just medium—which rhymes with tedium. A new soft drink—Okay—seems symbolic of this condition. It’s not very tasty but not very bland, not too sweet or too sour. It doesn’t have much color but it isn’t quite transparent. It’s neither strongly carbonated nor totally flat. Nothing special, nothing outstanding, just Okay, the drink for the majority—of which we should be opposite. Instead of average, we should all strive to be the best we can be.
The Rut of Conventional Wisdom. Conventional wisdom is nothing more than the consensus of opinion until someone replaces it with something better. When conventional wisdom held that the earth was flat, people who had invested heavily in that paradigm tried to discredit new explanations because they’d lose face if it was proven wrong. The same is true with our energy policy, new methods of construction, farming, the welfare system, the tax system—and with leadership itself. Not very long ago, the prevailing leadership paradigm was the power of central authority. Management by command and control seemed everlasting—which is why shifting from power over others to empowering others is proving so difficult. We hope that this parenting program will give you unconventional wisdom to counter a culture steeped in celebrity one-liners, skin-deep values and reality TV that is anything but real.
The Rut of Group-Think. Leaders often appear to be outsiders to the areas in which they excel. Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, was a portrait painter. Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat, was a schoolteacher. Galileo was a tailor. Bill Gates, who founded Microsoft, was a college dropout. Golda Meier, Israel’s first woman prime minister, was a divorced grand- mother from Milwaukee.
What accounts for the success of so many outsiders? That they were never infected with group-think has much to do with it. Group-think is powerful in all professions, organizations, industries, and societies. It’s the idea that “this is how we do things around here, so fall in step and march to the cadence.” Prejudiced and authoritarian parents often pass their own hang-ups and invalid assumptions on to their kids. That’s why we believe this program can help you break the invisible barriers, the psycho- logical limitations that are holding your children back from reaching their full potential.
Years of study and some painful personal experiences have convinced us that fear of the costs of success are among the rea- sons prejudiced people resist change. For success does have its costs, including:
- Taking responsibility for giving up bad habits and invalid assumptions.
- Taking responsibility for setting an example in our own lives.
- Distancing ourselves from a peer group that isn’t helping us succeed and therefore tends or wants to hold us back.
- Leading ourselves and others down a new and unfamiliar path.
- Working more to reach a goal and being willing to delay gratifications along the way.
- Being willing to face criticism and jealousy from people who would like to keep us stuck in place with them.
These are among the perceived costs of success that prompt people to escape from the present by occupying their minds with past memories or future expectations. Leaders, by contrast, are not dismayed by the cost of success. They get started and build positive momentum. Determined to pursue their potential, they look forward to an endless dialogue between their talents and the claims of life.
Lesson 5: The Statue of Responsibility
We’ve long been champions of equal rights for all—and of equal responsibilities for all. One of our pet projects is sponsoring an essay contest for primary and secondary school students to describe verbally or in a graphic illustration their ideas for a new monument called “The Statue of Responsibility.” As you’ve guessed, it’s meant to complement the Statue of Liberty.
Together with Viktor Frankl, who wrote the classic Man’s Search for Meaning, we’ve lectured about the need for such a symbol for years. The idea sounded frivolous to many in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. But America’s current condition in the new century has turned the seeming frivolity to somber concern. Lately, we like to put ourselves in an imaginary time machine and arrive at the year 2020—with an unsettling premonition: Together with our great-grandchildren, we’re aboard a huge hydrofoil tour boat, taking off from San Francisco’s Pier 39 for a 45-minute excursion around the new Statue of Responsibility on Alcatraz Island. Looking back at the city skyline, we see the Sumitomo and Bank of China centers, formerly the Transamerica and Bank of America buildings. Other landmarks have undergone similar transformations. The Mark Hopkins, Sir Francis Drake, Fairmont, Hilton, and Mansion hotels are now called the Peninsula, Shangri La, Mandarin Oriental, Royal Garden, and Miyako hotels.
In 1884, France gave us the Statue of Liberty as a gesture of friendship and a lasting reminder of the precious liberty that we citizens enjoy under a free form of government. In 2020, 136 years later, the Asian Common Market offered us a reminder of the investment in that liberty by giving us the Statue of Responsibility. It seems both ironic and entirely appropriate that this new monument was erected on Alcatraz Island, a rusting reminder of freedom forfeited by irresponsibility. At the base of the statue, we imagine reading a telling inscription: “If you take good things for granted, you must earn them again. For every right you cherish, you have a duty to fulfill. For every hope you entertain, you have a task to perform. For every privilege you would preserve, you must sacrifice a comfort. Freedom will always carry the price of individual responsibility and the just rewards of your own choices.”
We hope our generation and our children understand this message so the statue need never be built. If it is built, it should signify that we remembered freedom’s obligations before it became too late. The saddest will be if the monument is for reminding us, after our economic colonization, of the forgotten lessons from our immigrant ancestors.
Lesson 6: The Child Dominated Home
To attain emotional maturity, each of us must learn to develop two critical capacities: the ability to live with uncertainty and the ability to delay immediate gratification in favor of long-range goals.
Adolescence is a time of maximum resistance to further growth. It is a time characterized by the teenager’s ingenious efforts to maintain the privileges of childhood, while at the same time demanding the rights of adulthood. It is a point beyond which most human beings do not pass emotionally. The more we do for our children the less they can do for themselves. The dependent child of today is destined to become the dependent parent of tomorrow.
As traveling lecturers, we see many children who are in charge of their parents today. In Dr. Rosenthal’s book, Be a Parent, Not a Pushover, she specifically deals with healthy parenting methods, especially in dealing with teenagers trying to exert their independence, without considering the rewards and consequences of their choices. We observe many teenagers and adults who, as a result of no self-discipline and poor leadership, are out of control.
One-third of American children start experimenting with drugs and alcohol in middle school and one in ten high school seniors experiment every day. And this is nationally, not just in certain regions of the country. There are three million teen- age alcoholics in America, and the number is growing. It all adds up to self-destructive behavior based upon parent, peer, and media pressures for immediate sensual gratification. Feeling guilty about not spending enough time interacting with and role modeling for our children, we attempt to purchase their affection with material gifts and over-indulgence, falling into the trap of trying to be their best friends and buddies, instead of their leaders, mentors, and coaches.
Lesson 7: Responsibility Action Ideas
Here are some action ideas to help you gain more personal responsibility in your business and personal life:
Carry this affirmative motto with you: My rewards in life will reflect my service and contribution. Invest in developing your own knowledge and skills. The only real security in life is inside us. Take fifteen minutes each day for yourself alone. Use this time to ponder how you can best spend your time for achieving what’s most important to you.
Set your own standards rather than comparing yourself to others. Successful people know they must compete with themselves, not with others. They run their own races.
Learn to depend on yourself. Don’t rely on other people, material rewards, or a prestigious job title to give you your self-worth. No one can take away your self-respect when it comes from within. When you make a mistake or fail at an assignment, avoid making excuses or blaming others. If a commitment can’t be met, always call immediately with a reason instead of making excuses after the fact.
Use another motto for your self-analysis: Life is a do-it-yourself project. When your subordinates or children bring you a problem, if they are old enough to reason, first ask them what they think should be done to resolve it. Be certain to assign responsibility for the solution and follow through. Resist taking the easy way out by doing it for them.
Let your children make mistakes without fear of punishment or rejection. Show them that mistakes are learning devices that become stepping stones to success. Break your daily and weekly routine. Get out of your comfortable rut. Unplug the TV for a month. Take a different route or different mode of transportation to work. Have lunch with people in totally different industries and read publications in totally different fields than your current one. And take the blame for your position in life honestly and openly—and share the credit for your successes with those who deserve it.
Responsibility training for your children begins early. When children are old enough to understand, they should put away their own toys, play materials, eating materials, and bathing materials. They should be responsible for making their beds, and keeping their personal belongings in order as a regular routine. Never pay children for doing something for themselves; in doing so, it actually robs them of self-esteem and is a form of bribery.
Responsibilities should be set for each family member. For operating the home (which later becomes the business) there should be regular chores, at certain times on certain days.
Payment may be in the form of loving hugs, pocket money, or special privileges. Whatever is done should be checked, ap- proved, and paid for on a relative scale, similar to that which will be encountered away from home. Children and teenagers should have savings accounts and checking accounts, and should go in person to open them and make withdrawals. Dream lists should be discussed enthusiastically and posted in a prominent place. Children should be encouraged to save their money for very special dreams they have had for three to six months minimum, and even longer if possible.
Television should be off unless eyes are on it. Programs should be selected from the TV schedule as to their value, interest, and plot. Alternative forms of diversion should be planned: plays, books, concerts, recitals, museums, seminars, educational Internet activities, walks, talks, stories, games—anything to stimulate the creative imagination and get control. When controversial shows are watched on TV they should be discussed, during commercials and afterward, with all views listened to, rather than challenged. Surfing the web should be a practice that fits the family values and not a surreptitious activity behind locked bedroom doors.
Until your teenagers fly the nest, it is your responsibility to know where they are, who they are with, pretty much of what’s going on and when they’ll be home. Any friend should be welcomed to your home. The best way to know what kind of environment your kids are into is to invite their friends over and observe, firsthand. The second way is to meet the parents of your children’s friends. Set rules that both parents will enforce. Set them in advance with your kids, and ask the kids help assign penalties and loss of privileges for rule infractions at family meetings. Actually, the penalties are usually a lot tougher than the parents assign. Be consistent in your demands and in your discipline.
Do not simply buy your children a car. If you must, after they have helped save for the down payment, cosign a note at the bank and work out a joint plan to make the car and insurance payments. Cars that are given by parents get condemned at least three years earlier to the junk pile than cars purchased by the kids. A child who is wholly or partially involved in the financial responsibilities regarding his or her own car polishes it twice as often. If there is any evidence of any use of alcohol or drugs connected with your teenagers’ or young adults’ use of a car, automatically take action for a six-week to three-month period. In the USA a teenager dies every twenty-three minutes in a car crash.
Don’t talk about drug abuse and irresponsibility, and come back late from a three-margarita lunch. Never preach what you don’t practice. Become a role model for your children and those you want to lead. And always model yourself after people you respect.
Seeds of Greatness: Roots (5 Courses)
Seeds of Greatness: Wings (5 Courses)