by Marshall Goldsmith
The world is often filled with people saying that someone else should do something and the workplace often filled with people pointing fingers at why someone else is the problem. My friend and colleague Dr. John Izzo has just released his sixth book titled Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything and it addresses this issue and provides a great solution! John’s book shows how stepping up and taking responsibility is good for your career, good for the workplace, will make your relationships better and just might save the world.
John and I have known each other for years as part of a learning group that meets once a year. We keep in touch year round and challenge each other to keep growing. We met recently, and talked about his new book. Following is my interview with John about his new book.
MG: What is Stepping Up and why is it the right book for our time?
JI: Stepping Up is seeing a need and deciding you are the person who can, should and will do something about it. We live in a time when we face so many problems such as poverty and climate change can only be solved when each of us steps up in our sphere of influence to create change. What’s more victim thinking has become pervasive in our society with everybody pointing a finger at someone else as the source of the problem. What we need are people at work and in communities who step up and decide they are going to create change.
MG: It’s not my job, it was someone else’s fault, she needs to change, and someone should do something about this or that, are phrases that you hear often. What is the impact on a person’s career and life when those words become the norm?
JI: Research shows that people who focus on what they can change rather than the external forces that influence them are more successful, less stressed and happier than those who feel like victims. What’s more we can’t fix anything but ourselves, so the moment we focus on what someone else needs to do we lose our power. In the book I suggest that every time you find yourself saying “someone else should do something about… ” you should instead ask, “What can I do about this?” It’s as true in a relationship as it is in a company or a community.
MG: You say stepping up is good for your career but a lot of people believe that people who stick their necks out at work get their heads cut off. Yet you share some fascinating research that suggests the opposite is actually true.
JI: The myth at work is that speaking up and challenging things will get you in trouble. But in the book I show research that shows that the opposite is true. People who speak up and challenge the status quo by bringing constructive ideas for change are rated more highly by their managers and are more likely to get promoted. But there is a caveat. People who finger point and blame are rated poorly so the key is to be what I call a “constructive irritant”. Speak up with ideas rather than blame and always begin by saying here is what I will do. Those are the kind of people who get ahead.
MG: You surveyed people to ask why they don’t step up more, what did you discover?
JI: The number one reason people said they don’t step up is because they think “I am only one person it won’t matter if I step up.” So what if I recycle or stop using plastic bags at the store, if I try to do something about work life balance in my company, or if I take a step to improve morale in my workplace. This feeling that it won’t matter if we step up is actually dangerous. One reason we don’t step up is we forget two important concepts. The first is what I call aggregate influence, which is that one person’s actions gets aggregated with that of many others and suddenly it has a big impact. The irony is that unless individuals take action there is no aggregate influence. The second is what I call the responsibility ripple, that when one person steps up it challenges others to step up. Stepping up is contagious. So one person matters because when you aggregate all those actions together something big happens and when we step up we create a ripple that grows.
MG: Can you give me an example from the book that shows the power of stepping up to change things for yourself and others?
JI: The book has so many, but here are two of my favorites. Three employees at a mid-sized company were complaining all the time about work life balance saying someone should fix this. Then one day they asked a different question-“what can we do.” They agreed to stop emailing each other on weekends and to never personally schedule a meeting after normal work hours. They just started telling others what they were doing and within two months they had thirty five people meeting once a week to come up with ideas. In a year, the company had adopted many of the practices they started. That is what happens when you start to meet and ask what we can do instead of what they need to do.
The second example, two high school seniors who heard about a kid who got bullied for wearing a pink shirt and instead of shrugging their shoulders they got their fellow students to show up the next day wearing pink shirts. They stopped the bullies in their tracks and now there are pink shirt days in twenty countries. That is the responsibility ripple in action.
MG: I think you are on to something about the zeitgeist of our time — the need for people to take personal responsibility. Why is it so important?
JI: Well, Marshall, you have spent your career trying to get people to look at themselves. Something happens when we look in the mirror and take responsibility. It changes your career, your life and ultimately the world. Go to our site and you will see videos of some of the people we feature in the book www.steppingupforchange.com.
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