As you may remember, I have recently started the journey of Becoming a Totally Responsible Person. The idea behind TRP is that we all choose to either exercise our power or give it away (you can read my prior post about it here), and we start to serve one another better when we allow for true ownership to occur.

Because most of us like a how-to, I thought it may be helpful for me to share how I (sometimes feebly, unsuccessfully, but always with hope of progress) go about putting this into practice.

For me, chaos (environmental, emotional, or otherwise) can feel something like I’ve unsuspectingly caught fire. In these instances, I often react: flailing about, grasping at straws, trying at all costs to douse myself with whatever “water” (i.e. immediate solution) I can find. In other words, all the things I’ve recently learned not to do. The idea behind the Totally Responsible Person is that when we consciously choose to respond rather than blindly react, we can rediscover the power we actually hold in our own hands. We stop catching on fire and actively choose the flames we light.

A formula I’ve found useful when I figuratively catching on fire is (wouldn’t you know it) the same as the tagline we learned about literally catching on fire as kids.

  1. STOP and assess. The first step to responding rather than reacting is to recognize the power of the pause. By inserting a pause between the external stimulus and the reaction, I give myself the opportunity to make a choice and thus respond.
  2. DROP all the assumptions and preconceived notions I have and focus on the facts in front of me. I work to not dismiss an option until I’ve worked my way through each choice and its consequences.
  3. ROLL with and own the choice I make. If it works, great! I pat myself on the back and take a little credit. If it doesn’t, then I remind myself that I have been given a valuable opportunity to learn and figure out something else. Regardless, it was the choice I made with the information I had to work with. It is also my choice to learn from the circumstances and continue onward.

This idea is partially why leadership can be so hard. True leadership involves giving responsibility away and letting other people do their jobs. It’s a difficult thing to do because it leaves you vulnerable to “catching on fire” via the mistakes of others. As a result, many of us assume a position of protection and hold on to more than we should.

What’s important to recognize is that mistakes are actually a crucial step in employees becoming the best contributors they can be. If we are leaders who constantly take away somebody’s ability to deal with consequences and learn from their mistakes (because we’re not allowing them to make them in the first place), we are stifling growth – of the individual, of the team, of the organization.

The amazing thing about this idea is that when we as leaders own our choices and let others own theirs, it becomes the backbone of a culture of ownership. It can spread like wildfire among partners and peers, and it trickles down and permeates through the organization, creating teams, departments, and a company that takes responsibility in a way that is evident and respected. It may be hard, but it’s most definitely worth it.

So go forth, newly responsible you! And remember to stop, drop, and roll.