Change masters do not blame past conditioning or circumstances for their actions. Their decisions are results of their own choices based on core values and knowledge. 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.
However, scarcely one person in a thousand puts his or her time to anywhere near its potential good use. Most of us fritter away much of our lives watching the game from the sidelines. Nor is there any ultimate advantage in taking praise or rewards away from others. Every time we think we can cheat our boss, fellow workers, friends, family members, or peers, we hurt ourselves most of all. Every less-than-properly-responsible act toward others slashes most deeply into our own opportunity to grow and prosper.
The truly successful leaders, those who have built financial empires or accomplished great deeds for society, are those who have taken personal responsibility to heart and to soul. By being true to themselves and others, they achieve success, wealth, and inner happiness. In the end, we ourselves–far more than any outsider–are the people with the greatest ability to steal our own time, talents, and accomplishments.
In a very real sense, we all become hostages of hundreds of restrictions of our own choosing or with the assistance of the entertainment media and our parents. As children, we either accepted or rejected the teachings and lifestyles of the significant adults in our lives.
As the father of six children, four by birth and 2 by adoption, I know from experience that the greatest gifts that parents can give their children (and that managers can give their employees) are roots and wings. Roots of responsibility and wings of independence. When those roots and wings are missing, the results are very disturbing — even tragic. In my parenting and leadership seminars, I tell a true story about a young couple who invited me to their home for dinner some time ago after an all-day program at a university. This man and woman, both highly intelligent, with advanced degrees, had opted for a “child-centered” home so their five-year-old son Bradford would have everything at his disposal to become a winner out there in the competitive world. When I arrived at their driveway in front of a fashionable two-story home, I should have known what was in store for me. I stepped on one of his many scattered toys getting out the car and was greeted by, “Watch where you’re walking, Mister, or you’ll have to buy me new ones!”
Entering the front door, I instantly discovered that this was Bradford’s place, not his parents’. The furnishings, it appeared, were originally of fine quality before their son practiced his demolition skills on them. We attempted to have a cup of tea in the family room, but Bradford was busy ruining his new Video Game controls. Trying to find a place to sit down was like hopping on one foot through a mine field, blindfolded. Bradford was the first to be served with food, in the living room, so that he wouldn’t be lonely. I nearly dropped my hot cup in my lap in surprise when they brought out a high chair that was designed like an aircraft ejection seat with four legs and straps. He was five years old, and had to be strapped in a high chair to get through one meal! (Soon, I wished it had been a real aircraft ejection seat!)
As we started our salads, young Bradford dumped his dinner on the carpet and proceeded to pour his milk on top of it to ensure that the peas and carrots would go deep into the shag fibers. His mother entreated, “Brad, honey, don’t do that. Mommy wants you to grow up strong and healthy like Daddy. I’ll get you some more dinner while Daddy cleans it up.”
While they were occupied with their chores, Bradford had unfastened his seat belts, scrambled down from his perch, and joined me in the dining room, helping himself to my olives. “I think you should wait for your own dinner,” I said politely, removing his hand from my salad bowl. He swung his leg up to kick me in the knee, but my old ex-pilot reflexes didn’t fail me and I crossed my legs so quickly that he missed, came off his feet and came down hard on the floor on the seat of his pants. You’d have thought he was at the dentist’s office. He screamed and ran to his mother, sobbing, “He hit me!” When his parents asked what happened, I calmly informed them that he had fallen accidentally and that, besides, “I’d never hit the head of a household!”
I knew it was time to be on my way when they put their little Prince to bed, by placing granola cookies on the stairs as enticers. And he ate his way up to bed! “How are you ever going to motivate him to go to school?” I asked quietly. “Oh, I’m sure we’ll come up with something,” they laughed. “Yes, but what if the neighborhood dogs eat what you put out? He’ll lose his way just like Hansel and Gretel!” The couple didn’t find that humorous and never invited me back.
As a traveling lecturer, I see many children throughout the world who are in charge of their parents. I also observe many teenagers and adults who, as a result of overly permissive or overly strict leadership at home, are out of control. Life’s greatest risk is being spoiled or pampered and then feeling entitled to depend on others for your security, which can really come only by planning, acting, and making choices that will make you independent. Leadership ideas that solve problems and create opportunity come from creative trial-and-error thinking.
Years of study and some painful personal experiences have convinced us that fear of the costs of success are among the reasons prejudiced people resist change. For success does have its price, 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. Just as companies must dissolve their boundaries and erase their hierarchies, so must you, the individual, reinvent yourself to meet the knowledge era’s changing demands. What this means is that you’re your own chief executive officer. Start thinking of yourself as a service company with a single employee. You’re a small company–very small, but that doesn’t matter–that puts your services to work for a larger company. Tomorrow you may sell those services to a different organization, but that doesn’t mean you’re any less loyal to your current employer.
The first step is resolving not to suffer the fate of those who lost their jobs and found their skills were obsolete. The second is to begin immediately the process of protecting yourself against that possibility–by becoming proactive instead of reactive. Ask yourself how vulnerable you are and what you can do about it. “What trends must I watch? What information must I gain? What knowledge do I lack?” Again, think of yourself as a company–for this purpose a research and development company–and establish your own strategic planning department. Set up a training department and make sure your top employee is updating his or her skills. Start your own investment plan knowing that you are responsible for your own financial security.
You’re your own CEO who must have the vision to set your goals and allocate your resources. Since your primary concern is ensuring your viability in the marketplace, you must think strategically in every decision. This mindset of being responsible for your own future used to be crucial only to the self–employed, but it has become essential for us all. For today’s typical workers are no longer one-career people. Most will have several separate careers in their lifetimes.
But although you must become your own life’s CEO and always act as if you were a company of one, being a team leader is equally important for your future. It’s no longer possible to achieve alone in our world of accelerating change, where the new global village has become the local neighborhood. Rather than become dependent on others, however, we should become interdependent, treating everyone we meet as a potential customer, someone with whom we may develop a strategic alliance in the future.
Although many things in life are beyond anyone’s control, you do have a great deal of control—more than most of us are willing to acknowledge-–over many circumstances and conditions. Here are a dozen of the most important:
1. You can control what you do with most of your free time during the day and the evening.
2. You can control your concepts and imagination, channel what you think about.
3. You can control who you choose as role models, and who you’ll seek out for mentoring counsel and inspiration. You can control who you spend your leisure time with–and, to a great degree, with whom you communicate.
4. You can control your tongue; you can choose to remain silent or choose to speak. If you choose to speak, you can choose your words and your tone of voice.
5. You can control the causes to which you give your time and goals. This is what we call the purpose behind the purpose.
6. You can control your commitments, the things you absolutely promise yourself and others that you’ll do.
7. You can control your concerns and worries–and whether you’ll choose to take action about them, as well as your response to difficult times and people.
Here are some action steps 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.
• 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.
• Use another motto for your self-analysis: Life is a do-it-yourself project. When your subordinates or teammates bring you a problem, first ask them what they think should be done to resolve it. Be certain to assign responsibility for the solution and follow through to the subordinate or team member. Resist taking the easy way out by doing it for them.
• Let your teammates, subordinates, and 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.
Your discipline and tolerance for sacrifice gives you an enormous social and financial force. Asian workers save an estimated 20 percent of their spendable income, nearly than quadruple the percentage of American savings. One major cause of America’s problems is 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 narcissism in action.
Self-determination, sacrifice, and effort–the attitudes and resolve that truly made America so prosperous and attractive–are increasingly unacceptable to many. If it feels good now, just do it. We feel entitled to success simply because we live in America. 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. . I have learned to take more personal responsibility for my choices in life by practicing the simple urgings in The Serenity Prayer by Rheinhold Neibuhr: “God please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.This means that I Accept the Unchangeable, which is everything that has already happened. That is history and cannot be changed. So I harbor my pleasant memories and gain perspective from the problems in my past. My only control is to Change the Changeable, which is my response to what has happened and my decisions in this present moment in time. Becoming a change master is to accept with serenity what has happened and courageously taking positive action in the here and now.