Responsibility. It’s quite the heavy-hitter, isn’t it.
Along the ins and outs of a lengthy working career filled with goal setting, initiative sharing and strategic objective plotting, I learned something unshakeable and consistent about responsibility. Responsibility rules.
Once your sense of responsibility about something asserts itself in your psyche, it will rule all else. It comes first, and has to be addressed first—you have to reckon with it.
If that sense of responsibility rumbling in your spirit isn’t aligned with those goals and objectives you plan to undertake, the chances you’ll triumph with them are few and far between. When responsibility rules, nothing can compete.
That’s not all.
Add one more hopeful wish to that list of career targets; dreams.
Responsibility will threaten your dreams if you let it, so don’t.
Backpacks and Pencil Boxes
Responsibility can be singular or plural. Either way, it’s heavy.
At some point, I started to think about responsibility as being like that lumbering backpack most kids carry through grade school. Most of the weight in those backpacks are from textbooks carried to class, and then home for homework. Learning what’s in them, is supposed to be our assigned responsibility while attending school. Learning is the work of being a kid.
The other thing we’d habitually carry in our backpacks was a pencil box, for without one, pencils left to their own survival lost their points, got snapped into pieces, or were lost altogether. Pencil boxes tend to be fairly cheap, so moms rarely object when their kids pick one out, and toss it into the cart while shopping together for school supplies. School is their kids’ work for the coming semester—why not brighten it up a bit?
Brightening it up is just the beginning though: Those pencil boxes are destined to become treasure troves.
As friendships get made, pencil boxes will start to hold notes exchanged in class when the teacher’s not looking. They’ll be big enough for a hidden calculator, or a smartphone you’re not supposed to have. They’ll hold onto a square eraser your first crush dropped and you picked up, so its worn corners could comfort you during a pop-up quiz or stressful exam. Pencils ‘grow up’ with you, in a passage of time, grade changes, recesses and playground smarts that morph into sophisticated mechanical pencils at some point, yet they’re really so much more than that. Watercolors replace highlighters, calligraphy pens replace those cheap Bics.
We graduate from school, and we sell our textbooks or bequeath them to our younger siblings, used, yet with the gifts of our margin scribbles that might give them their own creative impulses. The pencil boxes we keep, scooting them under our bed to wait for summer treasures, or tucking them high onto a closet shelf as a secret kept safe, for they’re holding the humble yet undeniable beginnings of our after-school dreams.
Kuleana: Joy or Clutter?
“Kuleana: Joy or Clutter?” is what we’ve called the responsibility reckoning we’ve done over the years since Say Leadership Coaching has been in existence, teaching and coaching the value alignment of Managing with Aloha—Kuleana in particular.
Everyone has to reckon with their sense of responsibility at some point—people come to work with the textbooks and pencil boxes they already have been carrying around with them for years. The ‘textbooks’ are largely made up of shoulding—they shoulder the responsibility they feel they should have, responsibility running the gamut from family obligation, income earning, skill learning, customer service, promotability and such—all those responsibilities stemming from ‘being an adult now.’
Quite frankly, most (not all, but most) of these textbook cases of responsibility has turned into clutter. It’s heavy. It gets in the way. It drains useful energy. It was practice. It’s temporary responsibility, and it should be.
Tucked away into our pencil boxes however, is the responsibility that is the stuff of our true, self-motivated, and Aloha-resonant selves. It’s heavy-hitter responsibility too, but it’s wanted. It’s our joy in being able to grow up by finally making our own choices with and about whatever we want to be held responsible for, and accountable for. It’s highly desirable and inspirational for us, the responsibility we want to initiate and own, but it’s still largely tucked away in some closed box within us. Why? Because our shoulding tells us that pencil box responsibility is a luxury we cannot afford to entertain until we deal with the textbooks that [might] help us grow up completely first.
I could tell you that’s rubbish, and that’s wrong or foolish, but I won’t convince you or change your habits. You do have to deal with that textbook responsibility first, and before you dare to tempt yourself with opening your pencil box. You want whatever dreams are inside, but you’re going to protect them until you know there’s little risk of their escaping, or getting broken in two because they fell out of the box and into your cavernous backpack of adult trepidation.
As for that lofty “goal setting, initiative sharing and strategic objective plotting” we think of as our professionalism—forget about it.
Our Kuleana clutter-busting works for your personal stuff and for your professional stuff. It works at home and it works at work. So some of you will do it twice because you separate the two, others will just do it all at once mixing the two because they keep blending despite your efforts to segregate them; it doesn’t matter. All the responsibility you’ll be thinking about is now yours, and you’ve backpacked it long enough to follow your instincts.
This is a very easy exercise. The problem is that you just don’t do it until someone like me gets you to.
Ready? Good. I want you to work on three lists.
1. On List one, write down the responsibilities which are your keepers. Recognize that what you enjoy doing serves as an energy catalyst for you, and hints at your Ho‘ohana. The things on this list will stay in your inbox, on your To Do list, within your projects, and in your life, and you won’t mind one bit. You want these responsibilities to stay with you; you actually savor them, and feel them grow you into your Palena ‘ole capacities.
2. On your second list, write down the responsibilities you know you can reassign and delegate to someone else. These are quality items, and they are worth doing, so they will be meaningful for someone and their future growth, but that someone doesn’t have to be you, and is no longer you. If someone said, “take it or leave it” you’d leave it without a second thought or shred of regret.
3. On the third list, I want you to get ruthless. Write down the things that are busy-work and really not that important—yes; responsibility can degrade and become meaningless. If you forgot about these things no one would notice, but it would clear a lot of pending drag in your own brain and free your spirit. You’ve forgotten the reasons for this stuff, and you’re simply on auto-pilot for them. These things are not adding any value to your life, or to anyone else’s.
Joyful Work in Waiting—Be Clear on Who it is for
As you probably guessed, List 1 started to gel years ago in your grade school pencil box. It’s the responsibility that is not dreary, or energy-draining at all—it’s your responsibility turned Joyful Work in Waiting.
List 2 represents the textbooks which were the better ones, the ones most relevant to your learning (lots of scribbles in those margins!) and quite possibly, your career early on. However you did indeed graduate from these subjects, you have retained what you will need to remember or recall when useful again, and it’s high time you moved on. You know this despite what anyone might tell you otherwise—stop listening to the shoulding which bears an expiration date for you. Give away those textbooks to people who need them more than you do, along with your notes, your scribbles, and your once-valuable lessons learned.
List 3 is your clutter, and it’s time to bid it goodbye once and for all. Saying your goodbyes may take some time, but trust me, it will be time so well spent for you!
Be sure nothing related to List 3 sits at the bottom of your Inbox, is on any To Do List you have, or gets integrated into any of your future goals, objectives or dreams—deal with it in the way you know you must, in order to bid it goodbye forever. Be absolutely sure you collect any physical trappings that are associated with List 3. Once this collection is done, cackle with glee as you burn the list. Give away, donate, trash, bury or burn all the ‘trappings.’
One discovery many have made in doing this exercise, is that procrastination can indeed be a part of the responsibility you placed on all three lists. Another good casualty? Bad habits.
Don’t you feel better now?
It’s time to work on your worthwhile delegation to, and training or mentoring of others (List 2), and best of all, it’s time to work on your own dreams (List 1). Your pencil box has been tucked away for much too long now. Open it up, and work on your joy.
If you have a copy of Managing with Aloha, there is another exercise in Chapter 10 on Kuleana designed to help you with the delegation of List 2, those responsibilities you have graduated from. Think of delegation as sharing your learning, and not as sharing a burden. If you truly struggle with delegating something to someone else, ask yourself how worthy a candidate that responsibility really is:
—Why were you still doing it?
—Will you allow someone else to take it from you? What hold does it have on you?
—Do you have to clarify it and decide on your next action so you can complete a portion of it in some way first?
—Do you have to train someone else in it, and coach them before you can delegate to them?
—Could the answer possibly be ‘None of the Above?’ Do you have to just let it go, and cut your own emotional ties to it?
- Motivation is Kuleana’s Inside Job
- Banish Your Possibility Robbers
- People Who Do Good Work
- Palena ‘ole Positivity is Hō‘imi— look for it
We Ho‘ohana Kākou,
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Preview the updates in Managing with Aloha, Second Edition, released Summer, 2016
Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawai‘i’s Universal Values to the Art of Business