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Learn to put responsibility where it belongs. It’s good for your health and business results.

Last month, I listened to some middle managers moan, groan and grumble about their Board Members.

This went on for half an hour. Very few constructive ideas came out. The discussion flitted from one problem to another, like a bee from flower to flower (except a bee is more productive in collecting pollen as it goes).

Eventually, the discussion landed on one Board Member. His “crime”: he constantly changes the deadlines on key projects. That seemed to be the essence of the complaining and negativity.

To start with, the Board Member was not in the room. So there is little to gain from a long discussions about him. He cannot explain, justify or defend his actions. After 30 minutes of letting the managers get things of their chest, I decided it was time to move the dialog along.

“And what did he say when you asked him about the reasons for these changes?”, I asked. Silence. The buzz was gone. While the middle managers were happy to invest time in complaining, clearly no-one wanted to confront the Board Member.

There is an obvious point here: how will the Board Member know about the problem if nobody communicates it to him. (Of course, how to communicate and whether he is receptive to the message are two different challenges).

But there is a more important lesson. We cannot abdicate our responsibility for speaking up. I write from experience. Early on in my career, I used to avoid confronting people, preferring to be “diplomatic” – whatever that means! I particularly avoided high-status people. But these days I am much more likely to respectfully confront people. There is a world of difference between speaking respectfully to people – Board Members, colleagues, employees, customers – and, on the other hand, totally avoiding bad or painful news.

Speaking up and confronting people frees me. I respectfully leave problems where they belong, with the “owners” of those problems. Other successful people tend to do the same. They all have a good balance in life. Since I started speaking up, my work-related stress has gone down to near zero.

Sadly, too many people wait for permission to speak out. They choose not to speak out. It’s like they are waiting for somebody to hold their hand or do it for them. The problem is that doesn’t happen. The longer they wait to speak out, the more the frustration builds up inside them.

Worst of all, that frustration rarely disappears. That frustration goes somewhere: the unhelpful attitude with colleagues, the cynical comment in a meeting, or worse still, it goes home to be taken out on family and friends.

We do not choose who to work with. But we do choose whether to respectfully confront people about problems. By taking action, we free ourselves from the stress and frustration of inaction. It is a choice. In the end, by choosing to take action we have a healthier life at work and at home, and higher performance at work. That’s an outcome that most people would be very happy to have.

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AL Managing Director

Leading this product launch has taught me to be effective doing what I find naturally easiest – using trust and supporting people each step of the way. It augments my chances of making sure future product launches are as successful as this one.

MN Vice Director - Medical Marketing Europe

This process allowed people to re-appraise how this [senior team of managers] group was functioning or, rather, not functioning correctly. The tendency for each member of our group to see himself as an isolated beacon of excellence – which acted against the vital need for cooperation between members – were eased and communication is already becoming more 'normalised'.

RS Senior Director

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