A student's perspective LO7346

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
09 May 96 22:36:55 EDT

In response to many public and private e-mails.

I have had a number of responses to some of my posting about personal
responsibility. I can summarize them into a few broad categories which I
apologize in advance for oversimplifying.

The categories are a) I accept responsibility, but here's what happened
when I did [x], b) I don't agree. I am not to blame, [x group] is to
blame or more to blame than anyone else, and c) You talk a good story, but
be more specific about what we need to do.

Points a and c are two different ways of asking the same question, so let
me come back to them in a bit.

Regarding b), what I said was that when it comes to improving the
situation we are in, there is no one here but us people. If we don't take
personal responsibility, then there is no one else to do it. My focus is
on the responsibility, which is a very great deal different than the
blame. Fixing blame is not one of the five disciplines. Fixing blame is
not a skill of even mediocre leadership. Fixing blame is not one of the
requirements of any of the 'isms' that have been put forth in the last 15
years of effort to improve organizations. Deming may have fixed blame on
senior leadership. If he did this -- open to question -- then he was
wrong. He was a great person, but not infallible. Everything we know
about systems thinking tells us that blaming is useless.

I thought Dave Bellinger's systems analysis of Archie's example, and
Scott's wonderful illustration of how infrequently senior leadership is
even asked how to deal with a question -- let alone be informed -- were
insightful. Don't think, by the way, that senior management gets off the
hook here. They are responsible as well as all the rest of us. I can
argue they have more opportunity because of their leverage. On the other
hand, I can argue there are more of us -- millions of times more -- so our
leverage is not insignificant.

To build a bit on Scott's example, it has often been said -- accurately --
that people get promoted for their ability to 'do', and they get promoted
into positions where their job is to manage. This is not a skill they
have necessarily demonstrated. There is a lot of truth to this. That
makes Scott's point even more pertinent. Why, if this person was the best
we had at some certain skill, do we not involve him or her more in some of
the most difficult problems facing us? I have yet to meet a senior
manager who will order someone to leave a system broken once they know of

Nor are schools the source of problems. Everyone really needs to go back
and read Bill Hobler's summary of the systems interacting in our
day-to-day lives to see how there can be no simple answers.

To summarize this point, the acceptance of personal responsibility is not
intended, nor should it be taken, as acceptance of blame. The question is
"Who, if not me?"

To go on to points a) and c), I have two approaches, diametrically opposed
to each other, and both valid.

First, I did not and can not offer solutions. If someone has solutions,
then let's anoint that person, and let them solve the problems. Just
because we accept responsibility, does not mean even for a minute, that we
can solve -- or even know how to solve -- the problems facing us. I think
we have to struggle a long time before we can answer this question. We
have to live with ambiguity. We have to talk to each other, and struggle
with ideas. If, at the end of the day, I have loved my family, worked at
my job, taken care of my personal needs, and struggled a bit with these
issues, then perhaps I have done enough. At least for now. Some day I
may have an epiphany, and understand how else I can contribute, but for
now, that is all. However, the important point is, I am wondering what
_my_ role is in the solution. I am no longer wondering what everyone
else's role is. That is a very large difference, and it colors the way I
think about the issues.

However, there is another way to look at this issue of what do I do.
Let's take the use and misuse of power as an example. It is one of many
that have come up in this forum where there are opportunities for personal

The use by senior leaders of power in the business place has been
criticised. But let's just think for a minute. Senior leaders did not
invent power or the misuse of power. I can tell you from observing many
young people come into the work place, that they are already familiar with
misused power when they get here, and they already know to defend
themselves. Frankly, in far too many cases, their personal defense
mechanisms get in the way of their success. Why? Because misused power is
endemic in society, at least ours. It is in the home, it is in the
schools, it is in the social groups that kids participate in, it's in the
school coaches, it's on TV, it's in Washington, it's everywhere you look.
Sometimes it is called abuse, but many times it is not even recognized.
Therefore, the task of improving the use of power in the work place will
_not_ begin in the workplace. It will begin everywhere. What role do
_you_ have -- you personally -- in this task? Have you misused power? Do
your kids know how to deal with misused power? Have you learned how you
personally should deal with misused power? If you think this is an area
where you personally are strong, then pick another area of opportunity
that is virtually everywhere. Communication. Five disciplines. Values.
Health. There are hundreds -- thousands -- of opportunities. It's a
small point, but an opportunity for almost all of us.

I understand in advance that this is an unsatisfying response to everyone
who wants to change society today. But this is the central challenge of
personal responsibility. Recognize that society is not going to change
today no matter what you do today. Start with the things you can do.
Build your capacity. Build the capacity of children. If you can't solve
the problems today, begin today to build the infrastructure that will
solve the problem tomorrow.


Rol Fessenden LL Bean, Inc. 76234.3636@compuserve.com

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>