In 1987, Michael Jackson released a song titled “Man in the Mirror.” The theme of the song is clear: If you want the world to be different, if you want it to be a better place, the change needs to start with you—the person in the mirror. The song included the lines, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. . . . If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”
It’s a great message for each of us about personal responsibility. It’s easy to sit back and complain about the way things are. It’s easy to point a finger at others and criticize what they’re doing. It’s easy to blame others for what has happened. But what are you doing to make things different or better?
All too often, those of us who consider ourselves leaders take to the soapbox to complain about what is happening around us. We rail against injustice or point at the wrongs others are doing, but we fail to examine the person in the mirror. We don’t take the time or the effort to remedy the situation; we only call attention to it. And words without action are meaningless.
I vividly remember a conversation I had after 9/11 in which I was told that President George W. Bush had failed as a leader because he didn’t capitalize on the opportunity to rally the citizens of our great nation around a cause after the tragedy. In the opinion of the person I was speaking with, President Bush had the responsibility to take this opportunity to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. Who among us wouldn’t make a sacrifice by trading our gas guzzler for a more fuel-efficient—even electric—vehicle? But he was bemoaning the fact that the president hadn’t seized the moment.
When I asked this person why he wouldn’t go ahead and make that sacrifice—to start with the man in the mirror—he said something to the effect of, “Because I’m just one person, and my sacrifice won’t matter. I’ll do it when everyone else does it, and that’s not going to happen because the opportunity has been missed.”
What would this world be like if every one of us held ourselves responsible for making it a better place? What if the change we wanted to see in the world had to start with us?
The same is true at work. We often complain about things that are going on at work. Maybe we think there’s a lack of leadership from the top or the company’s strategy is all wrong. Whatever it is, we don’t like it, and we share our displeasure with anyone who will listen. But words without action are meaningless.
When you disagree with what’s happening at work, do you stand up for what you believe? When you see something that you believe is wrong, do you just complain, or do you do something about it? When things aren’t working, do you criticize, or do you offer an alternative plan?
Look, I get it. You’re not always in charge. Sometimes other people are calling the shots. But that doesn’t mean you can’t voice your opinion. It doesn’t mean you can’t openly share your ideas and offer alternatives. It doesn’t mean you can’t take personal responsibility for your role in whatever is going on at work.
There are many things we can’t change in life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There are many things we can’t control. That’s a fact we must accept, but there is one thing you are fully in charge of—yourself.
Maybe you’ve tried to be a change agent at work. Maybe you’ve voiced your opinions, shared your ideas, and fought for other methods, and all of it has fallen on deaf ears. If you truly believe in what you’re saying, if you have the courage of your convictions, maybe it’s time to change scenery. Sometimes the only way to make a difference is to find a place where you’re allowed the opportunity to make an impact. It takes courage to make a change, but you can’t say you don’t have full control of where you work.
If we want things to be different at work or in the world in which we live, it starts with each of us. There’s one thing we can control, and that’s the actions of the person in the mirror. It’s time for each of us to take a hard look at the face staring back and determine whether we’re doing everything we can to make a difference. Chances are we’re not, but what if we did?