With great responsibility, comes great power...
Welcome back to The Modern Software Developer; in this issue, I talk about how taking responsibility can give you power and control and lead to personal growth and professional success.
* I first published this article when I had very few subscribers, but it’s such an important topic that everyone can do with a reminder, and I brushed it up a little, too. It also fits the topic of a recent livestream event I took part in about taking responsibility to avoid burnout.
Checkout the resulting podcast here.
Ok, let’s get started…
You might ask yourself, “What exactly am I taking responsibility for?” it’s a good question.
👉 Your time
👉 Your career
👉 Your thinking
👉 Your wellbeing
👉 Your outcomes
👉 Your relationships
👉 Your code (especially when it breaks)
Whatever it is that YOU want out of life, it’s YOUR responsibility to make it happen - no one else’s.
That might be a bitter pill for some people to swallow, but no one is coming to sort out your relationship, health, or career…
Many people think they are taking responsibility, but when they dig a little deeper, it turns out not to be the case, or they find out there is a lot more to it.
But remember this:
With great responsibility, comes great power...
That might sound familiar, and you might think I’ve got that wrong, but let’s revisit it at the end of this issue. You can decide then if you still think I have it wrong.
What is responsibility?
Let’s kick off with a definition:
Responsibility: the state or fact of being accountable for something. It is the willingness to take ownership for one's actions and decisions, and to accept the consequences of those actions and decisions.
You’ve probably got a good idea of what you think responsibility is, even without fully articulating it, but let’s explore this a bit further by asking:
Is there anything you HAVE to do?
Do you have to:
👉 Go to work?
👉 Obey the law?
👉 Pay your mortgage?
👉 Follow social norms?
👉 Look after your children…?
At first glance, you might think, yes, of course, you HAVE to do all those things.
But do you really?
The answer is NO…
You don’t HAVE to do any of these things; You’re not forced to do them; YOU CHOOSE to do them.
I’m not saying you can go around breaking the law… your choices have consequences, but they are still choices.
👉 If you always pay your mortgage, what happens?
You keep your house and have a safe and warm place to sleep at night.
👉 If you stop paying your mortgage, what happens?
The likelihood is you’ll lose your house.
Do you WANT one of these outcomes more than the other? Of course, you do, so you choose to pay your mortgage.
You might argue that this is semantics, but it’s hugely important for your wellbeing and your personal and professional growth to recognise that these are your choices and you take responsibility for them.
Why is taking responsibility so important?
The importance of taking responsibility largely comes down to how it gives you a sense of control and helps you understand what you can control and can’t.
This is important because those who are not taking responsibility get frustrated at trying to change things they have no control over, often leading to stress and anxiety.
This is referred to as having an external locus of control.
External Locus of Control
An external locus of control refers to the belief that forces outside of your control largely determine events and outcomes.
People with an external locus of control tend to attribute the cause of events and outcomes to external factors such as luck, chance, or the actions of other people and, in doing so, are placing the fate of their self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth in the hands of other people.
They might feel like a puppet with other people pulling their strings.
This can lead to negative consequences, such as a lack of motivation and a tendency to blame others for one's own problems.
People with an external locus of control often feel like life is happening to them.
This can be a disaster for your personal growth and professional success. You might feel like you have little influence over your life, your circumstances or your career and that you’re at the mercy of external forces. E.g. the government, your boss, your relationship, the economy…
This can lead to feelings of helplessness and inaction, causing you to take a back seat in your journey and contributing to burnout.
Internal Locus of Control
On the other hand, people with an internal locus of control believe that their current situation is a direct result of their own thoughts, actions, behaviours, decisions, habits or lack thereof.
They are the puppeteer as well as the puppet…
When you have an internal locus of control, you take personal responsibility for your successes AND failures and believe you can shape your destiny. This can lead to a belief that you have the power to make positive changes in your life.
Rather than feeling like life is happening to you, when you have an internal locus of control, you feel like you are making life happen.
You recognise that your hard work and effort can influence your outcomes, and you become the leading character on your journey, accepting that wherever it leads, you played a major role in it and can continue to shape it.
This means you’re more likely to see new opportunities and take on new challenges to make progress in your life and career and take your wellbeing into your own hands.
Look out for warning signs that might suggest you're not taking as much responsibility as you think you are:
👉 Lack of initiative and disregard for rules
👉 Lack of follow-through and accountability
👉 Making excuses and being overly negative
👉 Avoiding ownership of mistakes and blaming others
A key idea of taking responsibility is recognising that the biggest thing you have control over is what goes on in your head - your thoughts.
Your thoughts are driving your emotions, behaviours and, ultimately, your outcomes.
You can’t control what happens in the world, but you can control (and take responsibility for) how you think about it and how you respond to it.
If you can learn to get a grip on your thoughts, you’re tapping into great power and control.
How does taking responsibility help in software development?
When we look at how taking responsibility relates to software development, we are really focusing on having an internal locus of control and recognising our role in our own situations and circumstances.
Are you taking responsibility for your thoughts and your actions?
When a bug was found in some code you wrote, did you accept responsibility and get on with fixing it, or, did you blame…
👉 Your partner because of an argument you had the previous evening,
👉 The last developer who made the code so difficult to work with,
👉 Your product owner for adding too much work to this sprint,
👉 The api team for not documenting their contract properly,
👉 The testers for not finding it before it was released,
👉 The BA for not being clear on the requirements,
👉 UX for designing a complicated journey…
Any or all of those things could have been a factor, but seeking to blame others is just an exercise in massaging your ego and pandering to your insecurities.
It probably strains your relationship with the people involved and contributes little to solving the problem at hand.
You can’t control what other people do or don’t do, but you can control how YOU think about a situation and how YOU respond to it.
Rather than seeking out blame, start by considering how you could have improved the situation.
Could you have:
👉 Taken time out to get your head straight after an argument with your partner?
👉 Spoken up when the product owner wanted to bring in too much work?
👉 Checked the requirements with the BA to clarify uncertainties?
👉 Left the code in a better state for the next developer?
👉 Clarified and tested the api contract earlier?
👉 Shared your concerns with the UX team?
👉 Tested your code thoroughly, locally?
By focusing on what you could do, you have a choice to influence later outcomes.
If you simply blame other people, you’ll likely feel stressed and annoyed when things don’t improve, and the situation is out of your hands.
Surely, I can’t take responsibility for everything?
Listen, this can be quite hard-hitting, and you might feel like your ego has been bruised a little at this point, but taking responsibility isn’t about taking on EVERYTHING; it’s about accepting the consequences of what you choose to take on and what you choose not to and being ok with that.
How do I take responsibility?
If you want to start taking more responsibility and feel more in control of your life and career, pay attention to how you speak.
How you speak to yourself, and others goes straight into your subconscious mind and contributes to your thinking when on autopilot.
People who don’t take responsibility often use 'victim' language; it sounds a bit like this:
👉 I HAVE to…
👉 I’ve GOT to…
👉 I MUST…
👉 I have NO CHOICE…
👉 If only I had…
Over time, these people believe they don’t have a choice in the matter… they feel helpless.
On the other hand, if you want to take more responsibility, you can work at eradicating victim language and using more 'responsibility' language. It sounds a bit like this;
👉 I WANT to…
👉 I GET to…
👉 I CHOOSE to…
👉 I’M going to…
👉 I AM…
Be more deliberate about what you expose yourself to, own your decisions and your actions, and if you don't like the situation or circumstances you find yourself in, take things into your own hands and do something about it.
It's time to take responsibility for what you want.
Taking responsibility is so important for your personal growth and professional success because it means taking things into your own hands.
Recognising that you are playing a major role in your outcomes means you’re more likely to seize opportunities, improve your strengths and work on your weaknesses.
Taking responsibility means that you take control of your own destiny, your self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.
And as a software developer?
You'll be seen as trustworthy, dependable and an excellent team player.
I stand by my quote…
With great responsibility, comes great power...
It's not selfish to put yourself first; there's nothing more important than your own wellbeing!
Please share with your network if you found this useful.
Until next time...