The Modern Software Developer Newsletter
Wellbeing & Performance
Issue 7 – Taking responsibility: From personal growth to professional success
Welcome back to The Modern Software Developer. In last month’s issue, we talked about the importance of FOCUS and how it is so often misunderstood.
You can find that issue here.
In this month’s issue, I’m going to talk about how taking responsibility can give you power and control and can lead to personal growth and professional success.
You might be asking yourself – “What exactly am I taking responsibility for?” – and it’s a good question.
👉 Your wellbeing
👉 Your relationships
👉 Your career
👉 Your time
👉 Your code (especially when it breaks)
👉 Your thinking
👉 Your outcomes
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 there is no one coming to sort out your relationship or your health or your 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, at least.
But remember this:
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:
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 that you HAVE to do?
Do you have to:
👉 Obey the law?
👉 Follow social norms?
👉 Pay your mortgage or rent?
👉 Go to work?
👉 Look after your children…?
At first glance, you might think, yes, you HAVE to do all those things.
But do you?
The answer is NO…
You don’t HAVE to do any of these things; YOU CHOOSE to do them.
Now, I’m not saying you can just 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 you 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 choices you are making and to 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 how it helps you to understand what you can control and what you 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 events and outcomes are largely determined by forces outside of your control.
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.
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 own journey.
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.
When you have an internal locus of control, you take personal responsibility for your successes AND your failures and believe that you have the ability to shape your own 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.
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
The Thinking Cycle
I’ll talk more about the thinking cycle in another issue, but a key idea of taking responsibility is recognising that the single biggest thing that you have control over is what goes on in your head – your thoughts.
The thinking cycle demonstrates just how important this is, as 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 just get on with fixing it,
or, did you blame your product owner for insisting on adding too much work to this sprint,
or, did you blame your partner because of an argument you had the previous evening,
or, did you blame the last developer who made the code so difficult to work with,
or, did you blame the api team for not documenting their contract properly,
or, did you blame the testers for not finding it before it was released,
or, did you blame the BA for not being clear on the requirements,
or, did you blame 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 puts a strain on your relationship with the people involved and contributes little to actually 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?
Could you have spoken up when the product owner wanted to bring in too much work?
Could you have checked the requirements with the BA to clarify uncertainties?
Could you have left the code in a better state for the next developer?
Could you have clarified and tested the api contract earlier?
Could you have shared your concerns with the UX team?
Could you have 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 is going straight into your subconscious mind and contributes to how you think when on autopilot.
People that 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 this has people believing that 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 from 2023.
In summary, 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…
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…
Keep up to date!
- Issue 7 – Taking responsibility: From personal growth to professional success
- Issue 6 – Misunderstanding Focus
- Issue 5 – Pair Programming is more about people than coding
- Issue 4 – Developers: you might regret not getting enough Sleep
- Issue 3 – Are your Beliefs holding you back?
- Issue 2 – Hydration can really make a difference
- Issue 1 – Self-Awareness is a superpower