Has it ever dawned on you that the wrong person might be owning responsibility? Without clarity on whose journey is it, who is deprived of the learning?
When you’ve been absolutely “in the thick of solving a problem”, and really focused on it, can you recall or picture being so entrenched in it that you no longer noticed how those around you were reacting? How often have you had the epiphany to “step back” and consider that and even to ask yourself whose problem it actually is; you know, whether you are in fact the right “owner” of this problem? Or whether you are overly focused on solving someone else’s problem for them, perhaps without even noticing that? Does this occur for you, and if so, is it rarely or often?
Who is owning responsibility?
In my coaching sessions I sometimes observe such situations and then often challenge them by asking the person “holding on to it” “whose journey is this?” Can you relate? In many cases they suddenly realize that they have taken ownership of something they actually shouldn’t have. That apart from wasting their own time in doing so, they may well have deprived the other party of a learning experience they were destined to learn from.
I’m sure you can relate, right? Think of some situations you may have read about or seen in the media (or perhaps even experienced to yourself), where for instance family members have got themselves into the most precarious of personal situations, be it in terms of breaking the law, or getting into serious financial difficulties or within their relationships etc. Let’s say the family member got into a commercial debt which they were no longer able to serve, and in order to help you offered to underwrite that debt as surety. Now the pressure would be on you to provide the means to maintain that debt, squarely making it your problem, right?
Now while the indebted family member continues to take genuine responsibility for improving the situation that led to the default and keeps trying to do what it takes to “trade out of it”, it’s all good. But what if that doesn’t work? Or what if they stop trying because the immediate urgency has been taken care of (by you)?
How often do we encounter such situations in our life and work around us and how often might we think we are “doing the right thing” by offering to “help”, when in fact we may actually be “doing the wrong thing” by that person?
In Personality Plus… I described the four temperaments many of us know from the DISC model. The overly extroverted and task (rather than people) oriented individual is known as the “high-D” or the choleric personality. They have a very strong need to be in control and will often “meddle” or “muscle in” on areas they actually shouldn’t, but they can’t stop themselves. One trait such strongly driven individuals have is that they mean well, but aren’t very good at seeing or sensing the (sometimes intimidating) impact that their actions can have on others around them. These people (who are unfortunately sometimes also “un-coachable” because of the size of their ego) often struggle with “leaving ownership” to others and may well be those we most frequently see “taking over other people’s journeys”.
If you are willing to admit to being one of these, then I would urge you to read my blog on Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself from which you may learn a technique that can better assist you to manage such situations. And there are a bunch of “boss or peer management skills” that your coach can assist you with if you work for or alongside such people, if you aren’t one of these cholerics.
How does this relate to parenting?
If you remember back to when we were kids can you recall typical situations where your parents wanted to prevent you from “getting hurt” or from perceived danger, can you remember how you hated being “lectured” or not being allowed to experience whatever this was about by and for yourself? A centuries old generational problem, right? But still most alive and well today.
I remember feeling deprived of many such learning experiences (also from my much older siblings) and was actually quite pleased when I returned to boarding school after holidays, so that I was free of this form of “protective interference”. There I could “have a go” and learn from where I got it wrong.
Does Customer Service Matter?
We have all experienced situations that we classify as “poor service” indicating a lack of care, which is often simply a lack of someone taking ownership of the perceived problem.
In decades of business experience I have learned that good solid business process, also anticipating “what could go wrong”, then assigns ownership to remedying problems for each potential case. If nobody feels or takes ownership for that situation, it will “fall between the cracks” and afterwards The Blame Game will have all sorts of fingers pointing to “but I thought it was your or Joe’s problem”.
I remember when we started a range of eBusiness processes in the “dot.com” era around 2000 and set up online, customer driven queries, response or Q&A facilities that ended up on our corporate “inbox”. Nobody thought to assign ownership to looking at this inbox each day and assigning responsibility for each problem to someone that would see it through until it was considered “closed” by a happy customer. And so they “just sat there” invoking very disappointing customer experiences because we had not been able to practice Managing Expectations.
Where it isn’t a clear case, defining “whose journey” that is becomes an important management requirement.
How Inflated is Your Need for Significance?
I remember so well a corporate situation outlined by the head of a maintenance outsourcing organization. Their sales pitch included the assessment of how existing internal company maintenance resources loved a “technical or situational challenge”; one that counted on their entire problem solving prowess in which they willingly worked “around the clock” at the selfless expense of all else to resolve a major issue, and then basked in the “hero status” conferred on them afterwards.
He described how such working teams (usually a powerful team in their “technical tribe”) could quite easily fail to develop – or even block – strong preventative engineering processes that would have avoided such problems in the first place, because these would remove their potential for “hero status”. They would quite willingly (and repeatedly) take ownership of such “disasters” because of the way in which they met their need for significance. Whilst very productive and profitable for the company, the prevention rather than cure was seen by such people to be “so boring”….
Whose journey should that be?
Can you really delegate?
One of the greatest tenets of good leadership is good delegation so that subordinates are given the opportunity to learn and develop new skills as the leaders of the organization progress it towards its vision. It is one of the fundamental requirements of organizational growth; one in which there can’t be promotional growth if there aren’t any good successors being developed; ones that in turn can innovate and develop and grow the business for everyone’s benefit.
Poor leaders are known to often fail here, because of their need for significance preventing them from seeing the value of delegation as they might no longer be seen to “own everything”. They are afraid of delegation because it could rob them of their power. And so they try to keep ownership of everything, and by not “letting go” they are depriving others of the opportunities they need to grow themselves. Then they get into trouble with differentiating Urgency from Complacency and all sorts of stressful situations and unproductive behaviours including Procrastination start to manifest.
To me this is also an example of a lack of clarity on “whose journey is it” meant to be?
I trust that this conversation has served to develop awareness for us in our personal and organizational behaviour? So that we are better able to recognize what we could or should own ourselves and what is actually someone else’s journey; an Awareness of where our need for significance can get in the way of appropriate ownership and how getting that wrong can have substantial impacts on outcomes and relationships. Not forgetting how when that becomes “interfering”, how it can rob someone and deprive them of an important learning opportunity.
At a more spiritual and “big picture” level, we can relate this also to our destiny, where we may well “be here” to learn a particular life lesson, which we might suffer a much greater loss of, if deprived of such a journey that was meant to teach us that. I quite frequently ask a coaching client why they thought something may have happened to them (or not) in terms of what the intended life learning may have been.
So next time before you “rush in”, perhaps you can just step back and create a gap to establish whether what you were about to launch into was in fact your journey, or whether you might be “getting in the way” of where it really belonged?
What if you did, and it made all the difference to that other person?