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“I attribute my success to this — I never gave or took any excuse.” — Florence Nightingale
Okay, I admit it; I’m obsessed with the importance of personal responsibility. And this quotation by Florence Nightingale, the woman who was the founder of modern nursing, reflects my strong beliefs on the subject. No doubt Ms. Nightingale ran into more than her share of roadblocks in her aspirations, but she was fearless and willing to take them on.
Today we have a society that is drowning in excuses. People who encounter difficulties blame others for holding them back. They purport to know people’s biases, feelings, preferences, and hatred toward them. They want to be able to pursue their goals in life with a minimum amount of effort. If they weren’t hired for jobs, racism was to blame. If they weren’t promoted to a new position, someone had unfair influence. The opportunities for feeling insecure and frustrated are endless. Especially when we can blame other people for our losses.
I liked Ms. Nightingale’s second point, too: never taking excuses from others. It can be so difficult to hold others accountable for their mistakes, poor performance, or bad attitudes. I received a litany of excuses from managers and supervisors when I worked as a consultant for not firing poorly performing employees: the system protects them; it will take years to get rid of them; they’ll just get moved to another position. But they didn’t realize what a disservice they were doing to the employee.
I was once hired to coach a supervisor because her sarcasm and demeanor intimidated her employees. She was a very unpleasant person to work for, although I got along with her and personally liked her. So, I spent a couple of months discussing with her other options for interacting with her employees. In fact, once she began understanding the impact of her behavior, she was not only identifying alternative responses, but began to catch herself “in the act,” even apologizing to employees. Her world opened to new opportunities for supervising her people. After my coaching time with her, I met with her employees for confidential feedback about her behavior. She still resorted to old behaviors on occasion, but several employees said she was much easier to work with and gave me examples.
The point I’m also making is that for years, her supervisors and managers kept ignoring complaints about her behavior. They did her a terrible disservice in not coaching her and explaining that she needed to modify her interactions. And then holding her accountable when she didn’t.
Florence Nightingale had the right idea. For us to be effective in our work and our relationships, we need to be prepared to learn about ourselves from others, hold others accountable, and be prepared to grow and change.Published in