Put responsibility where it belongs; it’s good for your health and business results.


Last month, I listened to a group of middle managers gripe and moan about the Board Member above them. This went on for half an hour. Very few constructive ideas came out. The discussion jumped from one problem to another like a bee buzzing between flowers. Eventually, it came to rest on one Board Member whose failure is to constantly change deadlines on key projects.

“And what did he say when you asked him about the reasons for these changes?”, I asked. Silence. Nobody said a word. 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! 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.

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.