So, the first impediment to taking responsibility is our tendency to merge it with blame. This makes responsibility heavy and crappy. You end up with leaders that are “willing to take responsibility” for something, but what this ends up looking like is someone falling on their sword and writhing around.
The second impediment to developing our capacity to be responsible for our lives is our tendency to conflate it with a “should”.
We should take responsibility for how things are going, or how we’re feeling. We should clean up with that other person, because that’s what a leader would do.
At its highest level, this looks like insisting to ourselves that we should want to lean into our leadership in this moment, even though our deeper truth is that we don’t want to right now. What we actually want (in the moment) is for the world to fuck right off and leave us alone.
Attempting to take responsibility from the lens of should is ultimately an attempt to impose responsibility on yourself.
You can take all of the actions of a leader from this place, but they will not cause the transformation you seek — not in yourself, and not in those you lead.
Transformational leadership cannot be undertaken from should. You must have a reason to lean into your own resistance that is compelling and inspiring for you.
Here are some other ways that “conflating responsibility with should” can sound:
- I want to develop my leadership because it’s a good thing to do;
- Leadership is important so I want to be a better leader;
- I want to be a transformational leader so that I can better lead my people;
- I’m committed to my own leadership because it’s important that I model leadership that way
What’s tricky about each of these is that they sound good. These sound like good reasons, and many leaders will step right over them.
“Great, you’ve got a reason to do this, let’s move forward.”
But underneath each of these answers, the question remains, “But why do you want to do that?”
Developing your leadership is a good thing to do. But so what? So is eating broccoli and cutting out alcohol. Why is this particular “good thing to do” important to you?
You want to be a transformational leader so you can better lead your people. Cool. But why is that important? Why does that actually matter to you?
What is it you want to create in your own life and your experience of your life, for which taking this on would actually be worthwhile?
Until someone has really gotten clear on a real “what-for” for themselves, leadership will exist as something they should do.
Action taken because “we should” has a short half-life. It is fueled primarily by our willpower — that is to say, our capacity to push forward in the face of our desire to stop. Without a reason of our own to continue, we have nothing to pull us into the fires of transformation. Only a belief that this is something you should do.
Eventually, your willpower will wear out, usually around the same time that you conclude you don’t actually have to do what you don’t yet want to do. What you should do will inevitably come into conflict with the fact that you don’t need to do it.
And transformation is never about what needs to be done.
“Sure, it’s a good idea, but are things that bad right now? I don’t actually need to do this. Screw it. I’m going to stop.”
The transformational leader decouples responsibility and their leadership from what they should do. They create reasons to step forward into transformation that are inspiring and set their soul alight.