Day 1: Composition
Nothing adds “muscle” to talent like responsibility. It lifts talent to a new level and increases its
stamina. However, as I consider the thirteen choices that help to create a talent-plus person, I real-
ize that responsibility is often the last choice people desire to make. The result is “flabby” talent
that fails to perform and never realizes its potential. How sad for the person who fails to take re-
sponsibility. How sad for others. Author and editor Michael Korda said, “Success on any major
scale requires you to accept responsibility . . . In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful
people have . . . is the ability to take on responsibility.” If you desire success, make responsibility
What deters people from choosing to be responsible?
THE STRENGTH OF RESPONSIBILITY
We live in a culture that overvalues talent and undervalues responsibility. If you doubt that, then
examine the way we treat our athletes. When athletes are in high school and college, their reckless
or irresponsible acts are often overlooked in proportion to the talent they display on the court or
playing field. What a disservice to them. Responsibility actually strengthens talent and increases the
opportunity for long-term success. Here is how it helps:
1. Responsibility Provides the Foundation of Success
Sociology professor Tony Campolo points out the importance of having a strong sense of respon-
sibility, especially in a culture like ours that values freedom. Of the American system, he writes,
While I think it lays down the principles that make for the best political system ever devised, the Constitution has one basic flaw. It clearly delineates the Bill of Rights, but it nowhere states a
Bill of Responsibilities . . . Government that ensures people of their rights but fails to clearly
spell out their responsibilities, fails to call them to be the kind of people God wants them to be.¹
I agree wholeheartedly with Campolo’s call for responsibility. In fact, for years I’ve taught leaders
that as they move up the ladder and take on greater responsibility, their rights actually decrease.
Leadership requires sacrifice. And while taking on responsibility is also a sacrifice, it is one that
brings tremendous rewards.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend time on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. I received a
tour of the ship and listened to many officers explain the various tasks and functions of the 5,500
people aboard the ship. What struck me was that the officers’ messages had a common theme.
They talked about the importance of their area to the overall mission of the ship and how the re-
sponsibility for those functions was shouldered by a bunch of nineteen year old sailors. The officers
made these statements with pride.
One officer told me about leading a former gang member under his command. The young man
had been given the choice of jail or the Navy. The troubled youth became an effective part of the
team and was then the leader of his squad. His proudest moments in the military, this officer said,
came from helping troubled kids to succeed.
What turned kids into productive citizens and troublemakers into leaders? Responsibility! When
they entered the service, they became immersed in a culture of responsibility. That culture de-
manded that they respond accordingly, that they become responsible and productive. When people
respond to a call for responsibility by giving their best, good things happen. The young men and
women I met had made the choice to embrace responsibility, and it was creating success for them
in the military. It will continue to provide a foundation for their success in the coming years, no
matter what they do.
What rewards do your responsibilities bring?
2. Responsibility, Handled Correctly, Leads to More Responsibility
Years ago, the editor of the Bellefontaine [Ohio] Examiner, Gene Marine, sent a new sports reporter
to cover a big game. The reporter returned to the paper with no report.
“Where’s the story?” asked Marine.
“No report,” replied the reporter.
“What?” growled Marine. “And why not?”
“No game? What happened?” quizzed the editor.
“The stadium collapsed.”
“Then where’s the report on the collapse of the stadium?” demanded Marine.
“That wasn’t my assignment, sir.”
People who handle their responsibilities well get the opportunity to handle additional responsi-
bilities. Those who don’t, don’t.
What are you doing or what can you begin to do that goes beyond the requirements of your job?
3. Responsibility Maximizes Ability and Opportunity
During the major league baseball players’ strike of 1994, many trading card manufacturers found
themselves in a tough spot. Pinnacle Brands, however, was determined not to lay off any of its em-
ployees. Yet the company had to make some changes to be able to pay everyone until business
picked up again. So what did management do? Placed the responsibility on the workers for finding
ways to replace the $40 million in lost revenue. CEO Jerry Meyer told his employees, “I’m not going
to save your jobs. You’re going to save your jobs. You know what you can change and what you can
The people did not let themselves down. A custodian reported that the company spent $50,000
on sodas for conference rooms, an expense that was cut. A finance department worker found a way
to streamline trademark searches that saved the company $100,000. A PR manager signed a deal to
distribute pins at the Olympics, generating $20 million. In the end, Pinnacle was the only one of the
top trading card manufacturers that didn’t lay off workers during the baseball strike.²
Responsibility has value, not just in hard times, but at all times. It increases our abilities and
gives us opportunities. One reason it does is that it causes us to take action, to make things hap-
pen. On the job, we need to take responsibility, not just for what we’re assigned, but for the contri-
bution we make. For example, if you’re in business, at the end of every day you should ask yourself,
Did I make a profit for my employer today? If the answer is no, then you may be in trouble. Take re-
sponsibility for being a contributor. Every worker needs to be an asset to the company, not an ex-
Author Richard L. Evans remarked, “It is priceless to find a person who will take responsibility,
who will finish and follow through to the final detail—to know when someone has accepted an as-
signment that it will be effectively, conscientiously completed.” When leaders find responsible peo-
ple, they reward them with opportunities and resources that help them to become more effective.
4. Responsibility, Over Time, Builds a Solid Reputation
Responsible people enjoy an increasingly better reputation. And that is one of the greatest assets of
sustained responsibility. Others discover what they can expect from you, and they know they can
depend on you. You’re solid.
In contrast, the longer you know a person who lacks responsibility, the less you trust him. A per-
son may try to compartmentalize his life—taking responsibility in one area and shirking it in an-
other—but in the long run it doesn’t work. Irresponsibility, left unchecked, inevitably grows and
spreads into other areas of a person’s life.
A general from American history whose reputation continued to grow was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In fact, his reputation became so strong that it got him elected president. Though he was only an
average president, he was an excellent general. One reason was his willingness to take respon-
sibility for his decisions.
During World War II, Eisenhower was responsible for planning the D-Day invasion of Normandy,
France. Giving the OK for the assault was a painful decision, one that he knew would lead to the
deaths of many servicemen. Yet he also knew that if it was successful, it would be a pivotal point in
the war against the Nazis.
Pat Williams, in his book American Scandal, writes that in the hours prior to the assault, Eisen-
hower handwrote a press release that would be used in the event of the invasion’s failure. It read,
Our landings have failed . . . and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time
and this place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy
did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt,
it is mine alone.³
Eisenhower had determined that he would take responsibility for whatever happened. That mind-
set earned the admiration of his fellow officers, his soldiers, and citizens alike.
If you want others to trust you, to give you greater opportunities and resources to develop and
strengthen your talent, and to partner with you, then embrace responsibility and practice it faithfully
in every area of your life.
TALENT + RESPONSIBILITY = A TALENT-PLUS PERSON
PUTTING THE TALENT-PLUS FORMULA INTO ACTION
There’s no way for me to know your personal history in regard to responsibility. Maybe assuming
responsibility has been a problem for you. Or you may have a strong sense of responsibility, and
you never drop the ball. Either way, please review the following steps to help you become a talent-
plus person when it comes to responsibility:
1. Start Wherever You Are
Greek philosopher Aristotle observed, “We become what we are as persons by the decisions that we
ourselves make.” Each time you make a responsible decision, you become a more responsible per-
son. Even if your track record hasn’t been good up to now, you can change.
Successful people take personal responsibility for their actions and their attitudes. They show re-
sponse-ability—the ability to choose a correct response, no matter what situation they face. Re-
sponsibility is always a choice, and only you can make it.
If being responsible has not been one of your strengths, then start small. You can’t start from
anyplace other than where you are. I think you’ll find that when it comes to responsibility, the best
helping hand you will ever find is at the end of your arm.
Give yourself a review. Are you taking care of the details in your job? How about at home? How
often do you forget small things that are big things for your family members? It can be as big as
forgetting an anniversary or birthday, or it can be as small as not picking up dry cleaning or being
late for a child’s game or recital. If you’re neglecting small things, then get back to the basics.
2. Choose Your Friends Wisely
Since I’ve devoted an entire chapter to relationships and how they influence talent, I don’t need to
say very much here. Heed the advice of trainer and consultant Kevin Eikenberry, who says, “Look
carefully at the closest associations in your life, for that is the direction you are heading.” If you
have started your journey on the road to responsibility, just make sure that you have the right trav-
eling companions. You will find it difficult or impossible to be responsible when you spend most of
your time with irresponsible people.
3. Stop Blaming Others
The sales manager of a dog food company asked his sales team how they liked the company’s new
“Great!” they replied. “The best in the business.”
“What do you think of the product?” he asked.
“Fantastic,” they replied.
“How about the sales force?” he asked.
They were the sales force, so of course they responded positively, saying they were the best.
“OK, then,” the manager asked, “so if we have the best brand, the best packaging, the best adver-
tising program, and the best sales force, why are we in seventeenth place in our industry?”
After an awkward silence, one of the salesmen stated, “It’s those darned dogs—they just won’t
eat the stuff!”
If you want to be successful and to maximize your talent as a talent-plus person, you need to stop
blaming others, take a good look in the mirror, and take responsibility for your own life. Television
host Oprah Winfrey says, “My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life, but
doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”
Ron French of the Gannett News Service writes that failing to take responsibility has become
pervasive in America:
Ducking responsibility has become an American pastime. We all have learned to play the blame
game, where the seven deadly sins are acceptable syndromes, and criminals are victims. From
life-long smokers suing tobacco companies, to students rationalizing cheating, we’ve become a
nation of whiners and cry babies. “It’s part of the American character nowadays,” says Charles
Sykes, A Nation of Victims. “We’ve gone from a society of people who were self-reliant to a peo-
ple who inherently refuse to accept responsibility.”
People who think others are responsible for their situation assign the blame to various indi-
viduals, institutions, or entities. Some fault society or “the times.” Some point at the system or “the
man.” (Criminals serving time in prison are notorious for blaming others and declaring their inno-
cence.) Others rail against the previous generation as the cause of their problems. But do you know
why? Cartoonist Doug Larson observed, “The reason people blame things on previous generations
is that there’s only one other choice.”
Who have you blamed in the past for your circumstances? What were you able to do to make your
Some of the best advice you could follow on this subject came from President Theodore Roo-
sevelt: “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.” That’s all any of us can do. Don’t
make excuses. Don’t look for others to blame. Just focus on the present and do your best. And if
you make a mistake or fail, find whatever fault you can inside yourself and try to do better the next
4. Learn Responsibility’s Major Lessons
There are four core lessons we need to learn if we want to display the kind of responsibility that
makes us talent-plus people. The lessons are simple and obvious. But they are very difficult to mas-
Recognize that gaining success means practicing self-discipline. The first victory we must win is
over ourselves. We must learn to control ourselves. You can use any incentive you want to do this:
the desire to follow moral or ethical values, rewards for delayed gratification, even the threat of pub-
lic exposure. Business executive John Weston commented, “I’ve always tried to live with the fol-
lowing simple rule: Don’t do what you wouldn’t feel comfortable reading about in the newspaper
the next day.” Every time you stop yourself from doing what you shouldn’t or start yourself doing
what you should, you are strengthening your self-discipline and increasing your capacity for respon-
What you start, finish. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who do and those who might. Responsible people follow through. If they make a commitment, they see it through. They
finish. And that is how others evaluate them. Are they dependable or not? Can I rely on them? Writ-
er Ben Ames Williams observed, “Life is the acceptance of responsibilities or their evasion; it is a
business of meeting obligations or avoiding them. To every man the choice is continually being of-
fered, and by the manner of his choosing you may fairly measure him.”
Know when others are depending on you. Talent does not succeed on its own. (I’ll discuss that in
detail in the next chapter.) If you desire to be successful, you will need others. Sometimes you will
have to depend on them. And there will be times they need to depend on you. In my book The 17
Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, I write about the Law of Countability, which says, “Teammates must
be able to count on each other when it counts.”
The first step in making yourself the kind of person others can depend on is being dependable.
The second is taking the focus off yourself and becoming aware that others are depending on you.
Having the intention to be responsible isn’t enough. Your actions need to come through.
Don’t expect others to step in for you. The following challenge was issued to the 1992 graduating
class of the University of South Carolina by Alexander M. Saunders Jr., chief judge of the South Car-
olina Court of Appeals:
As responsibility is passed to your hands, it will not do, as you live the rest of your life, to as-
sume that someone else will bear the major burdens, that someone else will demonstrate the
key convictions, that someone else will run for office, that someone else will take care of the
poor, that someone else will visit the sick, protect civil rights, enforce the law, preserve culture,
transmit value, maintain civilization, and defend freedom.
You must never forget that what you do not value will not be valued, that what you do not
remember will not be remembered, that what you do not change will not be changed, that what
you do not do will not be done. You can, if you will, craft a society whose leaders, business and
political, are less obsessed with the need for money. It is not really a question of what to do but
simply the will to do it.
Many people sit back and wait for someone else to step up and take responsibility. Sometimes
that is because of weak character—laziness, lack of resolve, and so on. But more often it comes
from poor judgment or low self-esteem. People believe that someone else is more qualified or bet-
ter situated to stand up and make a difference. But the truth is that most of the people who make a
difference do so not because they are the best for the job, but because they decided to try.
How often do you step up? Why might you hesitate? How will you begin to take initiative?
5. Make Tough Decisions and Stand by Them
When he was mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani kept a sign on his desk that stated, “I’m re-
sponsible.” In his book Leadership, he writes,
Throughout my career, I’ve maintained that accountability—the idea that the people who work
for me are answerable to those we work for—is the cornerstone, and this starts with me . . .
Nothing builds confidence in a leader more than the willingness to take responsibility for what
happens during his watch. One might add that nothing builds a stronger case for holding em-
ployees to a high standard than a boss who holds himself to an even higher one. This is true in
any organization, but it’s particularly true in government.⁴
That mind-set served him well during the crisis of 9-11 in 2001. He had to make many tough deci-
sions very quickly. And whether they were right or wrong, he stood by them. His tough-minded re-
sponsibility coupled with strong leadership served the people well during that difficult time.
President Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it
today.” Easy decisions may make us look good, but making tough ones—and taking ownership of
them—makes us better.
Most people have a tough decision in their jobs or personal lives that is waiting to be made.
They put it off and put it off. What’s yours? Why aren’t you taking action? Write the reasons so
that you know without a doubt what they are. Now write down the advantages of making the
decision. Are there any clear, concrete, and compelling reasons for putting off the decision? If
so, write them down. At this point, you know in your heart what you should do. Do it, and stand
6. Live Beyond Yourself
There is one more aspect of responsibility that I want to share with you. It will make you a talent-
plus person beyond the level of those who simply take responsibility for themselves. It is the idea of
taking responsibility beyond yourself by serving others. In a speech to the Massachusetts legis-
lature on the eve of his presidency, John F. Kennedy said,
For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high
court of history sits in judgment on each one of us-recording whether in our brief span of ser-
vice we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state—our success or failure, in whatever office we
may hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions. First, were we truly men of
courage? . . . Secondly, were we truly men of judgment? . . . Third, were we truly men of in-
tegrity? . . . Finally, were we truly men of dedication?⁵
Self-serving people regard their talent and resources as what they own. Serving people regard
their talent and resources as what’s on loan.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, has spent the years after
his time in the Nazi concentration camps trying to give back to others, including his time as a pro-
fessor at Boston University. He has also traveled extensively giving talks and sharing the wisdom he
gained from his life experiences. One of the questions he asks young people is, “How will you cope
with the privileges and obligations society will feel entitled to place on you?” As he tries to guide
them, he shares his sense of responsibility to others: “What I receive I must pass on to others. The
knowledge that I have must not remain imprisoned in my brain. I owe it to many men and women
to do something with it. I feel the need to pay back what was given to me. Call it gratitude . . . To
learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been there be-
fore me, and I walk in their footsteps.”
Practicing responsibility will do great things for you. It will strengthen your talent, advance your
skills, and increase your opportunities. It will improve your quality of life during the day and help
you to sleep better at night. But it will also improve the lives of the people around you.
If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then realize that you are its author. Every day you
have the chance to write a new page in that story. I want to encourage you to fill those pages with
responsibility to others and yourself. If you do, in the end you will not be disappointed.
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