Responsibility Reflects Character

As I read the latest news regarding the BP oil spill, I was reminded once again about this important subject of accepting responsibility.

BP confirmed that Tony Hayward will step down on Oct. 1 as the company seeks to reassure both the public and investors that it is taking responsibility for the spill and is learning lessons from this major disaster.

“BP will change as a result of this accident,” BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told investors.” We are taking a hard look at ourselves, what we do and how we do it. What we learn will have implications for our ways of working, our strategy, and our governance.”

Whatever your personal views are about the oil spill, please know that I’m not writing to defend or attack BP. I’m simply offering this current event as a way to illustrate what accepting responsibility looks like and why it’s in your best interest to do so.

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a national disaster like the Gulf oil spill or a personal blunder like losing your temper; the process of accepting responsibility for your action is the same.

Accepting responsibility for your actions and decisions will help you earn the trust, respect, and confidence of others as well as improve your self-image.

Sadly, accepting full responsibility for one’s decisions and actions is becoming a rarity. The good news is that those who do will stand out from the crowd.

Whose Fault Is It?

How we handle responsibility for our decisions as well as our mistakes is a direct reflection on our character. It’s wrong to think that we’re fooling anyone when we project blame onto someone or something else instead of a being accountable for our actions or decisions. People are smarter than that. They can tell when we’re shirking our responsibilities, and they find it extremely distasteful.

  • Blaming Others

It’s easy to see early on in life who has it right and who hasn’t. Consider the Little League player who always blames the team’s loss on the coaches, the umpires, and the other players. Or how the young professional with a poor performance record insists every time that it’s because of something beyond her control.

  • Accepting Responsibility

At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve probably also witnessed or heard about the positive side. Like a group of boys confessing to the neighbor that they broke his window rather than running away. Or the husband who humbles himself before his wife and children and apologizes after having been unnecessarily short with them.

Universally, people who accept responsibility for their actions command greater respect and influence. By contrast, those who pass the buck or make excuses eventually lose the trust and confidence of others.

In addition to reflecting character, accepting responsibility is one of the most critical factors in leadership. No one wants to follow leaders who attempt to pass the buck or who don’t accept responsibility for their mistakes or errors in judgment.

In my own life, I make every effort to always accept full responsibility for my decisions—both good and bad. Doing so has played a critical role in helping me make better decisions. I believe this is because when you hold yourself accountable for your mistakes, you learn important lessons from those painful experiences that help you avoid making the same mistake or bad decision again.

Three Keys to Accepting Responsibility

As a foundation for considering the essential elements of accepting responsibility, let’s break out what BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said:

1. Self-Examination

We are taking a hard look at ourselves, what we do and how we do it.”

The first step in accepting responsibility is to reflect on your action or decision. Before you can make anything right or apologize for a mistake, you have to have a clear understanding of where you went wrong.

2. Learning

“What we learn will have implications for our ways of working, our strategy, and our governance.”

Once you have a clear idea of what went wrong, you must ask yourself what you learned as a result. If you experience a success, what led to it and how can you capitalize on this knowledge in the future? If you made a mistake, what kinds of actions or thinking got you into hot water? Are your priorities in the right order? Is your focus in the right place?

3. Change

“BP will change as a result of this accident.”

Self-examination and learning by themselves are not enough. If we are serious about becoming someone who accepts responsibility for our actions and desire the benefits that come with it, we must also commit to and follow through with change. Continue what’s working and change what isn’t.

A Good Place to Start

I want to strongly encourage you to commit from this point forward to accept 100% responsibility for your actions and decisions? If you’re wondering where to start, here are some areas I believe are essential:

  • Accept responsibility for where you find yourself today.
  • Accept responsibility for the state of your marriage.
  • Accept responsibility for your children.
  • Accept responsibility for the state of your other relationships.

If you aspire to be a leader in your personal and professional life, begin by accepting full responsibility for everything you undertake and never pass the buck when things go wrong.

About the Author: Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 30 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s daily lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts. (Todd’s podcasts are ranked #27 in America’s top 100 podcasts and #1 in the personal and development field.)

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  • Khandi

    Dear Mr. Smith

    Firstly, thank you for sharing on the many relevant topics which play a pivotal role in my life!

    During the course of my life, I have practised doing some level of self-evaluation with the aim to be a better person (not just for myself but also to serve others). I have been inspired, encouraged and educated as a result of the issues you have penned.

    In relationship to the abovementioned topic, I have had to take a more diligent look at my life - my decisions and my actions. Despite the external factors which have influenced my decisions and actions (good and bad), I have come to humbly accept that I am SOLEY RESPONSIBLE for them! With that knowledge, I shall continue on the path for self-improvement - seeking help from others where necessary, as I am not all-knowing).

    Once again, thank you for taking the time to share so that other lives may be positively impacted. Kudos to you sir!

    God bless you!


  • Khandi,

    You are a special person! I admire your humility and authenticity. You also have a gift of communication.

    I wish you the very best on your journeys!


  • Hi Todd,

    great post as usual. Whether we accept 100 % responsibility for our decisions or not - we have it. So we might as well accept it. Refusing to accept it only leads to struggle, a whole life long.

    Thanks for sharing


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