Operating On Autopilot – Good for Airplanes, Bad For Humans

An article , recently shared with me touches on how our brains switch to autopilot after learning a new skill. In the article, the author discussed learning a skill but lack of focus on the mastery of the skill, using the example of driving a car. We typically learn well enough to pass the test, and that’s it. Autopilot kicks in for the remainder of our driving history.

As I considered this idea, I began thinking about the concept of being on “emotional autopilot.” In this state, someone isn’t fully present, may lack social awareness, and ultimately, isn’t operating in a manner that’s personally responsible. This is a concept that we often discuss in our culture here at Kolbeco, and it’s the opposite of being on autopilot. Personal responsibility means that one is very present, mindful and self-aware. And although you may not initially consider these when you review the skills of your team, it may be a good time to start doing so. Here’s why:

  • Team members who are skillful at managing themselves, and being personally responsible better manage relationships with others.
  • Strong relationships result in better teamwork, collaboration, and work product.
  • Left unchecked, lack of personal responsibility can lead to lower morale, and work could suffer.

If you’re like many leaders, you value excellence. It’s certainly one of our values here at Kolbeco. To achieve excellence, start with conversations about personal responsibility.

Personal Responsibility or Self-Directed

Personal Responsibility generally involves the belief that you are the author of your own life, mature in your response to various life circumstances, and accountable to what you create and what you affect in yourself and others. This awareness affects your emotional state, and how you manage that state to a preferred outcome. You’re asking yourself questions such as “how did my actions impact the outcome” rather than “why is this happening to me?” It’s a reflective process. You choose to operate in this manner, and it’s a brave, responsible, and often difficult choice. Yet it’s a position in which you control your outcome, rather than allowing others to direct it.

What does this mean for your team? It means they are engaged and self-managing. They take full ownership for the role they play in their work and relationships. And as I mentioned above, they produce better work.

Lack of Personal Responsibility or Others-Directed

Those that behave in an others-directed manner are often disengaged, and live in a world of drama where their relationships (and ultimately their work) suffer. They have limiting beliefs that they have no choice or that their choice does not matter. They make commitments and then do not deliver either, fully, on time or at all. There is no self- awareness nor self-management, just knee-jerk reactions with no thought. These reactions will lead to blaming others for the outcome, and perhaps even seeking revenge because someone else “made them” do something.

This is a harmful state for the person, and for the entire team.

Support Your Team to be Self-Directed

The following is a process that you can model in your own practice, and teach your team. When a circumstance occurs that triggers you:

  1. Notice how you are feeling. Is your heart racing, do you feel hopeless, are you on the verge of tears or feel compelled to argue? Allow yourself to notice and feel these emotions, without acting on them. Pushing them aside is not helpful.
  2. Ask yourself – How am I feeling? Be honest. “I am feeling…” and use feeling words, not thinking words. When you become fully aware of how you have been affected. You may feel a calm about the situation through self-awareness.
  3. Ask yourself – What do I want? It is important do this, and it is not selfish. This how you make a choice that you feel 100% accountable to, whether the choice is to agree, disagree or negotiate a 3rd option.

Once you slow down and take time to understand how and why you react the way you do, you can take steps toward managing that reaction and converting it into a more positive response. You will notice your outlook on your job, relationships, and family life are much different…much better.

Personal Responsibility in the Workplace

As an employer, you are regularly faced with workplace issues. Many of them are the result of a team member’s lack of relationship skills either with themselves, co-workers or authority figures. Taking steps toward educating and encouraging employees to focus on improving their relationships can go a long way to easing the day-to-day drains on employee productivity. These relationship skills generally begin by moving towards a model of self-directed, personal responsibility. Empowering your employees to practice these skills will have a positive impact on employee morale, employee retention, and the workplace environment in general.

If you are experiencing employees who are disengaged, create chaos regularly and tend to drain other team members on a daily basis, consider implementing some basic culture tools to aid in better, healthier workplace relationships. Making a healthy culture a priority will create a more attractive workplace for future employees and existing employees who welcome the change.

As the article states, “practice is easy, but deliberate practice is not”. I challenge you make deliberately practice the skill of being personally responsible and making it an important part of your workplace culture.

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