August 11, 2011
Time with Diana Chapman, the delightful mentor for leaders and leadership teams, is invariably rewarding. HopeLab’s board and management team worked with Diana recently, gaining insight into several useful tools she has refined for “conscious leadership” practices, including the concept of 100% responsibility.
100% responsibility means taking full responsibility, for yourself, your behavior, your choices, your emotional and spiritual wellbeing. 100%. Not more. Not less.
As it turns out, this is non-trivial in today’s world. Getting clear about what it would look like and feel like taking 100% responsibility is confounded by the fact that our lives are so frequently infused with drama.
In particular, we are awash in dramas of our own making, casting ourselves in the role of villain, victim or hero at any given moment. Drama compels us. It lures us. It also derails us from 100% responsibility.
To understand the relationship between villain, victim and hero and 100% responsibility, it’s helpful to examine each of these characters more closely.
First, the victim. Victims take less than 100% responsibility for their lives. They feel at the effect of the world, buffeted by circumstances they perceive as completely out of their control.
Victims seek heroes to rescues them or villains to exploit them. After all, for riveting drama, every victim needs a dastardly villain to haunt them or a splendid hero to rescue them.
When you find yourself saying things like “I can’t do anything about…” or “I just don’t understand why…” , you are playing the role of victim.
Now for the villain. Villains may take more or less than 100% responsibility for any given situation as long as they get to place blame. You will know you have chosen the role of villain if you find yourself in a blaming mode. You may be blaming others or blaming yourself for any given situation, but blame you must.
If you find yourself saying things like “Whose to blame for this?” or “It’s not my fault, it’s his/her/theirs…” you are playing the villain. A villain requires a victim to exploit or a hero to scheme against in order to thrive.
Heroes are another matter entirely. Heroes take more than 100% responsibility for situations, seeking temporary relief from pain or discomfort they would just as soon avoid. They like to rescue others (or themselves) but the relief in their rescue is always temporary. A hero needs a villain to battle or a victim to save.
When you are on the villain-victim-hero triangle, you are by definition, playing one of these roles. What’s more, you don’t even need others to join you on the triangle, you can play all three roles yourself if you so choose!
Imagine you are member of a work team. One of your colleagues is not getting his work done and it is affecting the team’s performance. You step in and create a work around to get the job done, playing the role of hero by taking on more than 100% responsibility and doing nothing to resolve the underlying situation. You later complain to a colleague that you are exhausted from staying up half the night to get the work done, blaming your teammate for his sub-standard performance and your exhaustion. You are in perfect villain mode. Elegantly shifting roles, you go on to bemoan the fact that you can’t understand why your team leader does not recognize this dynamic and fix it, assuming the victim role and taking less than 100% responsibility for your part in the drama you helped produce.
Well, what’s left then? If we’re not playing villain, victim or hero, what are we doing exactly? The good news is we are all capable of stepping off of the triangle at any time. Curiosity is a great aid in taking that step. Curiosity takes you back to yourself and out of the role(s) you are playing.
Present with yourself, you are not interested in blame, you get curious about gaining insight. Present with yourself, you are not interested in temporary fixes, you are curious about meaningful resolution. Present with yourself, you do not feel buffeted by the world, you feel grounded, clear and energized.
Most of us, for most of our lives, live on the triangle. Our culture supports this. Entire industries are based on this. (Think entertainment industry, cosmetics industry and all political campaigns for a few quick examples.)
The triangle is not “bad” and presence “good”. It is simply a matter of preference, a choice we are free to make, consciously, at any time. We can live consciously – taking 100% responsibility for where and how we’re spending our “one wild and precious life” – or we can do so unconsciously. In this very moment, we can live on the triangle or off the triangle. The choice is ours.
What are you choosing?
Pat is President and CEO of HopeLab and Chair of the Board of Zamzee, the social enterprise launched by HopeLab in 2010. Pat previously held the position of President and Executive Director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation for 15 years and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, East Africa from 1982–1985.
Image by yui.kubo, flickr.