Why is it so difficult for us to accept responsibility for our actions? I am asking this question after witnessing how some leaders were compelled to issue what is termed “unconditional apologies” which shows there is no remorse since these apologies were forced out of them. Others were fired, precisely because they couldn’t tender those apologies, if we are to follow the official version of what transpired.
The inability to accept responsibility for our actions is a result of insecurity. By taking responsibility one feels they are admitting to being weak, powerless, or an opportunity to lose the respect of others. It may cause one to feel they will lose their sense of value and importance.
On the contrary, taking responsibility earns you respect. We can’t be perfect all the time, we all make mistakes. When we accept responsibility we are accepting the blame for our actions and also accepting the responsibility for making improvements in our lives. Accepting responsibility is a measure of one’s self-worth, their level of security, and the true sign of strength and courage. Having this ability can empower you to grow in ways that would bring you great rewards and accomplishments in life.
Who would you have greater respect for? A person who takes responsibility for his/her actions, owns up to it and promises to do better in the future, or someone who perpetually denies any involvement in situations when it is obvious they may be responsible?
Accepting responsibility is a sign of personal growth and maturity. It is definitely not a sign of weakness. When you fail to accept personal responsibility for your actions the consequences do not necessarily promote goal achievement and success in life. The signals you send to the subconscious can come back to sabotage your progress.
One of the negative consequences that follow is an exaggerated sense of self that makes it difficult to get along with others. You then run the risk of becoming involved in conflicting situations and becoming more critical of others. Because your perception of your importance is exaggerated, your expectation of others is unrealistic and you become impatient, intolerant, and demanding. With this attitude, you act as a repellent to others, finding it difficult to gain their cooperation and before long very few people would want to be around you.
It is true that when you take responsibility for your actions is difficult to accept and you experience frequent feelings of insecurity. These insecurities can trigger doubt about your own abilities, which undermines your self-confidence. In this state of mind you have a high need to be right at all times to compensate for what you feel you are lacking. You defend your action, right or wrong. It compounds the already existing problem of being unable to accept personal responsibility and reinforces this behaviour even more.
Once this habit of refusing to accept personal responsibility is maintained, you may tend to become someone who is unhappy, angry, irrational, and defiant or even depressed. These qualities are not success enhancers but can eat away at your ability to achieve your best. Some might think that being responsible is the same thing as being accountable. But research suggests these are quite different mindsets. Being accountable means you are answerable and willing to accept the outcomes or results of a project or activity. But responsibility goes much further. It is the mindset that says, “I am the person who must make this happen,” whether it stems from your belief or because your job requires this of you, or there is some social force binding you to this obligation.
With subordinates, leaders manifest the quality of responsible behavior through a willingness to take charge and not shirk from decisions. It means giving up being “one of the group” and instead, accepting the role of the leader. For example, a leader who is unable to listen to other views but sit and listen every day to the same views resists the responsibility that defined his new role.
Thus, it means staying on top of problems and not assuming someone else will step in. It means having a results-based view of the leader’s role. No matter how great a human being you are, your effectiveness is ultimately defined by the results your team produces. The responsible manager ensures the group successfully drives for results. Accepts criticism for mistakes and takes steps to fix problems and make amends with those who have been inconvenienced. Acts as a buffer from pressures that come from above, and fends off unreasonable demands from others. ‘
Deflecting blame is no way to build trust. Not only is owning up to our actions the right thing to do, but it can often overcome negative consequences. For an example, we needn’t look any farther than a Navy sub commander, whose ship collided with a fishing boat killing civilians. Although an investigation determined that some of his men had made errors, the Captain took responsibility for the incident. While he was reprimanded for the accident, he has been largely regarded as a hero for taking full responsibility for his actions and the actions of his crew, never once diverting any criticism to them. Thus, great leaders take responsibility.
If we want to become progressive leaders – if excellence and success is our motto in life – then blaming others cannot be tolerated. Too often we fail to notice that we are playing the blame game. It’s a natural defense mechanism. Just as blaming is a defensive move, so is reacting. Rather than react – we have a choice of reacting impulsively or responding cautiously to the situation. When others see us accepting responsibility for our actions we help to promote an atmosphere of harmony and integrity.
Another intellectually nourishing answer is that one should act responsibly rather than taking the responsibility. After all, taking the responsibility and acting responsibly are two different things. Please understand, taking the responsibility does not mean feeling guilty or taking the blame but only means you acknowledge whatever is happening or has happened and you try your best to find a suitable solution. We all like to feel important and have others have a high opinion of us. Some more than others develop an over-inflated view of themselves. These tendencies act to wrap us in what many call “denial”, which creates a false perception of self and the inability to accept the truth about us. It then becomes painful to accept that mistakes are possible and when we make them the first reaction is to point the finger at someone else. We refuse to think objectively and accept any involvement for our actions.
As they say in Oshiwambo language, Ya li pokati koshofo ohai di po yapya nawa; Omunhu a dja pouteku ohe limonikila meaning good manners are seen and not bragged about. As they say, a word for a wise person is enough.
*Paul T Shipale
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.