By Bob Hueston on Jan 08, 2007
There's a key difference between being responsible for a problem, and being the cause of the problem. A long time ago I learned an acronym that has followed me to this day:
YARPUI: You Are Responsible for the Position U are In.
OK, it's a bit of a forced acronym, but it makes the point. No matter how we got into the current situation, no matter who caused it, no one is responsible for helping us, except ourselves. We own the responsibility of our own lives, and extending that to the workplace, we project leads are responsible for our projects, regardless of outside forces. I used to have a sign over my desk that just read "YARPUI," to remind myself of that everyday.
I'm not talking about always falling on one's sword -- the hollow "I take full responsibility" sort of statements that are usually followed by excuses. Those are acts of contrition, with all the sincerity of a person who says, "I'm sorry" when someone else bumps into them. Usually the person claiming full responsibility is not about to take responsibility; they are often about to resign, which is the antithesis of responsibility.
A person who is responsible takes control of the situation, even when they are not the cause of the disaster. They say, "To hell with how we got here. Let's move forward." No finger pointing. No excuses. No whining. Just action.
It can be difficult to deal with bad situations that are not your doing, that are out of your control. I had a young engineering project leader come to my office once, infuriated because one of the critical engineers on her project was pulled off to work on something else. "This isn't my fault!" she insisted. "No," I told her, "but you are resposible," and I introduced her to YARPUI. She needed to re-examine the plan and come up with options: How would this loss impact the delivery schedule? Who else could potentially join the team to backfill? Could features be dropped to save the schedule? And in the end, there was no value in trying to blame anyone for the situation; a simple statement like, "Due to staffing changes, we are replanning" would suffice.
In history, an excellent example is George Washington, the Hero of the Monongahela. After the disaster of Fort Necessity in 1754, Col. Washington's Virginia regiment was disbanded and he returned to civilian life. A year later, British General Braddock hired Washington as an aide. In 1755, during the Battle of the Wilderness at the Monongahela River, General Braddock was mortally wounded and the British officers and troops scattered in disarray, easy targets for the French and Indian warriors. Washington took responsibility for the situation. Even though he held no position in the British Army chain of command, he gave orders to the British offices, and rode up and down the lines restoring order and achieving an orderly retreat. Washington wasn't the cause of the situation -- he wasn't even an officer in the British Army -- but he took responsibility and placed his life on the line to extricate himself and his fellow soldiers from the situation.
At this point, when anyone who has worked with me for the any length of time is faced with a problem caused by someone or something else, they might stomp into my office, but as soon as I say, "YARPUI", they know that they're not going to find a sympathetic ear. They know they need to get right back to work, take responsibility for the situation, and plan around whatever disaster just happened. At least that's better than listening to another boring story about the Hero of the Monongahela.
Quote of the day: "The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made." -- Jean Giraudoux.