Leadership Tactic #40: I Am Responsible

I read an article the other day on how to apologize to someone. The best part was that it’s not a true apology there’s a “but” in there. “I’m sorry I’m late, but traffic was terrible.” Nope. That’s an excuse. For an apology, you remove the second clause. No but.

When I was a teenager, I was crossing an intersection in my parent’s sweet Dodge Caravan when I ran over a broken bottle in the road and destroyed one of the tires. As I waited for the tire to get replaced, I found myself trying to place blame in my mind. Specifically, I blamed the person who carelessly threw a glass bottle in the middle of the road. I got more and more angry at this stranger who had caused me such inconvenience–who had put me in danger, even.

But then it dawned on me: There is no stranger. There’s just a broken glass in the middle of the road. And I drove over it. I did. Some stranger wasn’t driving my car. I was. I am responsible.

I am responsible.

Say that to yourself the next time you make an excuse or point a finger or think the world is out to get you. Stop blaming everyone and everything but yourself. Just stop. And say this: I am responsible. I am responsible.

It’s freeing. We’re talking life-changing freedom here. If you are responsible, you have control of your life. You have the power to improve your life, to do good things, to steer your minivan clear of the glass in the road, to be on time.

I am responsible. Because of that, I know that I have the power to do great things.

15 thoughts on “Leadership Tactic #40: I Am Responsible”

  1. I think it’s worth considering the difference between taking blame and taking responsibility. In the case of the glass in the road, or being late for a meeting, I think taking responsibility is in order. You are responsible because you were driving the car, but hitting the glass was an accident. Maybe traffic was bad, and if you didn’t plan 15 extra minutes for such possibilities, then you are to blame. However, if you were stuck behind a major accident with ambulances and everything, and the detour took an extra half hour, maybe we’re talking about responsibility rather than blame. Excuses aren’t helpful, but if you’re willing to do what it takes to make up for it – offer extra work, stay late, buy donuts for the next meeting, whatever it takes – problem solved. That’s taking responsibility.

    To me blame has a connotation I prefer to reserve for big ticket items: like a car accident involving two people, or promising to pick up a nephew after school and forgetting, or putting a wool sweater in the dryer. Oh yeah, someone is to blame…. and they should definitely offer to pay, one way or another. 🙂

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  2. I also think there is a difference, albeit subtle, between saying, “I’m sorry” and saying, “I apologize.” The latter seems sorta half-assed to me. Just say you’re sorry; that’s what people want to hear.

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  3. I think this is such a harsh phrase, “I am to blame.” I like “I am responsible” or “I am responsible for (fill in blank)” more. I feel like there’s more of a choice than “I am to blame.” I’m sure you are not to blame for world hunger. That battle between rubber tire and shiny glass bottle wasn’t your fault. Unless you were curious about if you can crush that bottle with your van like you crush a soda can with your forehead. If that was the case, then glass won and you were truly to blame.

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  4. Ah, the wonderful thing about blogs is that you can change them. I changed this post from “I Am to Blame” to “I Am Responsible.” Thanks for your feedback, Cara and Jasmin. I think I Am Responsible is more empowering and positive.

    The point about the bottle is that there is no one to blame, so why waste time being angry at no one? I think we (people) spend a lot of time being frustrated with no one instead of being proactive about the things we do have control over.

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    • Cara–Oh, I really liked your first comment! You posted it early enough that I was able to change the name of the post! 🙂 I’ve had “I am to blame” in my notes for this blog for over a week, so I got past the point where I could think of alternate titles even though this one is much better. Thanks!

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  5. I really like this post, Jamey. It’s excellent food for thought. If I think about it, I know I sometimes follow up an apology with an “explanation” that is really more of an excuse.

    An apology certainly sounds more sincere when the second clause is removed. Great reminder!

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    • Thanks Penelope. I definitely find myself adding the “but” as well. But I try not to. I think sometimes I assume that the other person wants to hear why, for example, I was late. But in truth, if they want to know, they’ll ask. So now if I arrive somewhere late and kept someone waiting, I say, “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting” or “I’m sorry I’m late.” I think the other person hears it as an apology if you don’t add any reason or excuse to it.

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  6. Interesting post! To play devil’s advocate here, I might argue that our society has come to expect a “but…” to accompany any apology. I don’t think people know to ask why if you don’t volunteer the information. For some people, it may soften the offense if they know it was not your intention to slight them. Because they’ve come to expect people to volunteer the information, and you’re the outlier who does not, people might just think you’re intentionally slighting them. Thoughts?

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    • Trev–I hear what you’re saying, but I wouldn’t necessarily agree that it softens the offense (I think most people would assume that you’re not late on purpose). Adding the “but” turns it into an excuse, and it doesn’t change the fact that you are indeed late (or whatever the circumstance is).

      I keep trying to think of a situation where it would make the apology more sincere if you put in a “but,” but I can’t think of one. Can you?

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      • Upon further reflection, I think I’m making a different case altogether. I’ll agree that adding a reason/clarification doesn’t add to the sincerity of an apology, but I don’t think it necessarily detracts from it either. (Sometimes it does, I’ll concede that.) However, I do think clarification can make some people feel better/not upset about a situation. For instance, “I’m sorry I left you at the airport, but my father died in my arms after saving a child from a burning building. I was grief stricken and though I was blinded by tears, I returned to the burning building to save two other children in honor of my dead father, so I forgot to call,” sounds better to me than “I’m sorry I left you at the airport, but I got really into my Wii. I forgot to call because I was busy kicking Tom’s ass at Wii bowling.”

        If I heard those two apologies, both of which include excuses, I think I could still feel just as valued to person 1, but I’d be miffed at person 2.

        If I were person 1, I’d probably offer the explanation, but if I were person 2, I’d just wholeheartedly take responsibility.

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        • I don’t know…sounds like an excuse to me. Couldn’t you have done the father/child-saving thing a little earlier so you’d be on time?

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        • The explanation gives the person being apoligized to the opprotunity to determine if they were high enough on your priority list, and I don’t have a problem with that.

          As far as responsibility vs blame, you are always responsible for you (other than unforseeable incapacitating personal health issues). If you are late because you sat in the waiting room for 2 hrs before the doctor saw you it’s your responsibility. You could get up at any point in time (baring allergy tests) and leave. To me, blame is more about what causality of the delay. So, while the doctior’s tardiness caused me to be behind schedule, my timeliness is my respobsibility. If I lost the report because the laptop crashed, I should have kept a backup. etc.

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          • Red–You touch upon a valid point here, one that Trev eluded to above. In the circumstance of the long doctor’s office visit, you could text the person you’re meeting in advance so that they could adjust their schedule. I still don’t necessarily think there’s a valid excuse for being late in that situation because you can tell the other person that the time you’re meeting needs to change. Trev mentioned this above when he was talking about how you may not be able to contact the other person if you’re busy nursing baby kittens back to life (or something like that).

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