By Nancy D. Solomon, M.A.
Fifteen years ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution never, ever to make another one again. Rather than motivating me to change, inspiring me to action, and embarrassing me into fi nancial, physical or emotional shape, my New Year’s Resolutions seemed only to provide me with just one more opportunity to feel really bad about myself when, two weeks later, I would inevitably break them. This is the only resolution I have ever both made and kept. Until now, that is.
This change of heart occurred one recent morning when I sat at my desk having committed myself to the daunting task of sifting through the never-ending black hole of e-mail accumulated in my in-box. Having neglected this tedious chore for more than a month, I knew I’d be at it longer than most of my relationships had lasted. Did I warn you that a rant was about to begin?
I have grown to resent e-mail and the time it takes from my already too busy day. I know it’s supposed to improve my effi ciency and make me appear ‘professional,’ but it makes me cranky none-the-less. It’s not the people who send them that I begrudge as much as the fact that it adds still one more thing to my perpetual ‘to do’ list, eats up a couple of non-billable hours every workday, and keeps me distant and removed from the very reason I’m in business—to connect with people.
Of course it’s not the actual e-mail I hate. Benefits aside, e-mail interrupts both the ritual and the natural flow of communication between people. It creates distance. It’s impersonal. It can easily be an excuse for not confronting a difficult situation. We say things in e-mails that we might never say face to face. We hide behind carefully crafted language hoping to convey our thoughts without ever having to confront the possible displeasure plastered across the face our colleague.
No number of smiley faces will compensate for the absence of eye contact, body language and chemistry that naturally occurs when two people spend time in the same space.
Yes, E-mail has become just another place for us to hide—an avoidance device that makes us virtually invisible.
But E-mail is by no means the only way we’ve retreated from personal interactions and the development of relationship. We’ve become Pavlovian in response to our cell phones, pagers, voice mail and the like. We keep adding more personal technology to our lives in an eff ort to simplify them. But instead of simplifying our lives, we are becoming more removed from them.
An intolerable number of people in the United Sates feel disconnected from themselves and from others. People are becoming almost ‘gerbelesque’ in their response to the complications of their lives, working harder and faster at the things that already aren’t working rather than stopping and redesigning the whole thing. It would seem that all the systems we’ve put in place to manage our lives are essentially interfering with that very thing happening.
Research in the field of psychology has concluded that the primary reason people can allow themselves to commit heinous crimes is that they don’t identify with their victims—they view themselves as totally unlike the “other” and, therefore, are able to violate them.
I wonder, in all this musing, if that principle couldn’t similarly be applied to the diminished accountability that pervades corporate America today. I wonder if the machine has gotten so big, and we’ve become so lost, so invisible, that we’re able to do the things we do and not do the things we know we should, because we feel our contributions are infinitesimal in the larger scheme.
I wonder if we’re so disconnected from ourselves and from others that we don’t feel the need to be responsible: That in the back of our minds we figure there are so many layers between us and the world that there will always be someone else to take the hit, receive the blame, get the credit, or dodge the bullet. I wonder if we’ve neglected our accountability because we’ve become anesthetized by the complications or if the converse is more accurate.
Accountability means that we are willing to take personal responsibility for some intended outcome—that we will do everything we can to ensure that our sales are up, our bottom line is profitable, our employees are happy, our values are expressed by the way we do business and that our customers are well served—Even if we don’t own the company. I don’t know what that means for anyone else, but I certainly know when I have been accountable and when I’ve pretended that something wasn’t up to me.
Accountability increases as we invest our personal selves into the things we do. Accountability increases when we witness the impact of our actions and when our intentions behind those actions are aligned with some greater purpose we embody. Accountability increases when we commit to be leaders even if we’re the only one we’re leading. So this is my New Year’s Resolution and I invite you to share it, should you want to. I will connect more intimately with others this year: To reach out with a phone call and actually listen to the person on the other end of the phone and care what they have to say. During the above-mentioned call, I promise that I will not check e-mail, sort through my bills, water my plants, straighten my desk or indulge in any other form of multi-tasking. I will pay attention.
When appropriate, I will keep my conversations brief and to the point, but I will always listen better than I speak. I will write at least one hand-written note every week and include something thoughtful—something that is pertinent to the recipient’s business and might even touch their heart.
I will never be too busy to mentor a peer nor too arrogant to believe that a bit of the same wouldn’t be equally good for me. I will give my clients honest, open feedback which will invite them to connect with themselves and with others, and which will encourage them to their greatness.
I will not waste my energy proving who I am, but I will demonstrate it by leading with integrity, authenticity and sheer guts. I will be accountable for all of my actions, for every word I speak, and for every thought I have. I will place no blame, especially upon myself, and will make every effort to understand the person in front of me. Speaking of “in front of me”, I will enjoy the luxury of actually meeting face to face with my business associates. At the end of our meeting, I will know the color of their eyes, the wear on their shoes and the intention of their actions. I resolve that in 2004 I will do all of this unless I don’t and then you, as someone who is accountable, will let me know.
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