Response-Ability. It’s up to you

This is an article about being a grown-up. It has 3 main ideas:

  • The difficult and liberating choice of responsibility

  • Getting stuck on the wrong side of responsibility

  • The ability to respond

In previous articles in the Towards Safer Uncertainty series, I have talked about how having a flexible identity, and the act of acceptance play important roles in being available to a more hopeful future. Both of these liberating positions, require what is perhaps the most powerful act in making your life work - taking responsibility.

What defines a grown-up?

My definition of a grown-up is somebody who takes responsibility for how they experience the world, and the impact they have on others. And, that they actively navigate towards more accurate versions of reality. That usually means holding the mirror up.

Leading and living from the Safer Uncertainty quadrant requires you to be a grown-up. It asks that you have the awareness, openness and curiosity to engage with life as it is. It invites you to work through all the behaviours that arise in how you resist change and cling to the illusion of control.

Easier said than done. In the story of your life no doubt shit has happened. Events that you didn’t see coming or didn’t want to occur like death, loss, heartbreak, accidents, illness, and redundancy. I’ve had my fair share. I’ve been the victim, and I’ve been the villain. Owning your back story is no easy task, but unless you do, you remain stuck.

Getting unstuck

Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past

One description of forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past. This is owning your back story. Some of that forgiveness is about others and some of it is about yourself. Sometimes it’s about your Mum and Dad, God, Life or some higher power you might want to blame instead. It is accepting that you are the only person who can change your experience. It’s up to you.

This is a central theme of breakthrough thinkers like Schumacher and Frankl. Both overcame horrendous adversity with the realisation that you cannot choose what happens to you, but you have 100% control over the meaning you choose to make of your experiences. You have 100% control over choosing meanings that matter to you and are congruent with your purpose. It’s up to you.

What side are you on?

Getting stuck on the wrong side of responsibility is a bit like the difference between reacting and responding. What makes you human is the ability to choose how you respond rather than merely react. When you react, you surrender your agency. When you respond, you become an architect of your own future.

  • Ownership over Blame means taking a look at yourself and your part in any given scenario

  • Curiosity over Justification means being open to feedback and different approaches

  • Action over Excuses means thriving over surviving

  • Enquiry over Avoidance means stepping into uncomfortable conversations

  • Present over Pattern means managing your ego reactions and accessing the best in yourself and others

  • Meaning making over Victim means holding the possibility that this is happening for you rather than too you. Life is the great teacher.

  • Acceptance over Entitlement means knowing there are no rights and no guarantees. What is, IS.

Eric Berne, in his seminal work on Transactional Analyses (TA) talks about 3 ego state positions in communication and social transactions:

Parent ego state
Behaviours, thoughts and feelings copied from parents and parent figures

Adult ego state
Behaviours, thoughts and feelings that are direct responses to the here and now

Child ego state
Behaviours, thoughts and feelings replayed from childhood

Imagine if all of your conversations and transactions in leadership and life were adult to adult. What would shift?

Imagine if all of your conversations and transactions with yourself were adult to adult. What would be possible?

Owning all of your back story and taking complete responsibility for the meaning you make of your experiences is the domain of grown-ups. Adult to Adult conversations and transactions are fundamental in moving Towards Safer Uncertainty. There is much that can get in the way, and much to overcome. In the words of M. Scott Peck, it is the road less travelled. In my experience as an Executive Coach and Leadership Developer, it is a cornerstone of high performance. It is up to you.

Let’s do something with it: Response-Ability

Self-coaching questions:

  • Where are you stuck on the wrong side of responsibility?

    • What areas of your life

    • What relationships

  • What do you need to forgive yourself for?

  • What do you need to forgive others for?

  • What do you have to own?

  • What do you have to accept?

  • What different meanings could you make of difficult circumstances?

    • Past

    • Present

  • What conversations would create more ownership?

  • What would help you move in that direction?

  • Where do you choose to respond rather than react?

  • Who is it up to?


If you’d like some help with moving Towards Safer Uncertainty, for yourself and/or with your team, drop me a line.


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Photo by Aditya Wardhana on Unsplash

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