One of the salient themes that emerged for me during the presidential campaign was the failure of both candidates to accept responsibility for the actions that, perhaps more than any others, contributed to the antipathy that so many voters felt towards each of them.
For Mrs. Clinton (and many of her supporters), the abdication of responsibility took the form of consistent attempts to try and paper over the gravity of the email controversy, either through denial, “others did it too,” obfuscation, or (closer to acceptance of responsibility), regret, but never flat-out admission that she’d committed a very serious breach of procedural norms and ethics. Then there were the Goldman Sacks transcripts.
For Trump, evidence comes in the the form of his failure to own up to virtually any of his multitudinous inaccurate statements or lies, his misogynistic statements about a wide variety of women, or how his statements contributed to a darkening, coarsening, and threatening tone that resulted in the “Lock her up” chants. Not to mention the refusal to release his tax returns.
Since I’m not writing a political blog, let me comment on how a failure to accept responsibility impacts personal development and, potentially, a career.
Accepting responsibility means being truthful to both yourself and to the outside world about errors you may have made, or hurts you may have inflicted. It’s an admission of imperfection, of being wrong, of screwing up. No one likes to do that, but to NOT do it blocks the opportunity to learn, and to grow from your mistakes. What’s more, admitting culpability is pretty uniformly admired as a sign of integrity and bravery, while evasion of responsibility, once discovered (which it usually is), can tarnish your image. Furthermore, a willingness to consider your own role in a screw-up reduces the distortion that blocks clarity, sharpens the ability to view situations objectively and accurately, and thereby enables you to create more creative and workable solutions to problems.
I’ve seen that transparency is often a necessity for accepting responsibility, because if what’s going on isn’t transparent, it’s a lot easier to hide from acceptance. And recall that transparency means fully visible IN BOTH DIRECTIONS: externally and internally.
Turning to how this may impact your career: “throwing someone under the bus” has become a commonly used phrase in the work sphere. And those who frequently do so quickly gain reputations as dishonest, untrustworthy and potentially dangerous colleagues. They are often targeted for revenge. And their inability to “man up” (sorry, ladies, but we have not had et de-genderized that term) indicates an immaturity and lack of wisdom exhibited by the 5 year old who swears he didn’t raid the cookie jar, even in the face of 5 missing Oreos, or who blames his sister.
True, wisdom and maturity are not required in many positions. But they are certainly valued in upper echelons of management, so working on more easily and quickly accepting responsibility makes good career sense.
For those of you who would say about the election “well, didn’t failure to accept responsibility win out in the end?” I would say perhaps (there are, after all, exceptions to every rule) but I can’t help thinking that if Hillary had “womaned up” (well, I tried) to her trespasses she would have improved her image sufficiently to win.