There’s a new rule in managing and existing in an organization: When you have done all that is in your power, you may have an opinion on someone else. Having grown up on Disney animation, I can remember Thumper’s mom saying that if you can’t say something nice, say nothing. Forty years later, as I work in the business and education world, I still can hear that voice coming from my old record player, scratches and all, playing the same tune.

I’ve sat in too many meetings and discussions where the finger is pointed at someone else. Bob is giving me attitude, Kathy doesn’t answer my phone calls or emails, Tran always gives me excuses. It’s far easier to point the finger than to be self-reflective.

Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where responsibility is focused inward? What role did I have in causing Bob, Kathy and Tran not to do everything in their power to be effective? I know I can’t change people, but I will still keep trying! Changing my own behavior is extremely difficult, but changing others’ behavior is nearly impossible.

In an era of tweet storms, talking points, and “us versus them,” we all need to step up our game and take greater responsibility. Resources are wasted; time, energy, emotion and endless back-and-forth could be greatly decreased if we took greater accountability for our role in problems. Somewhere in our modern world of 24/7 information and social media, it became acceptable to blame someone else first. Perhaps that was always the case; however, there seems to be an increasing acceptance of blaming someone else rather than accepting responsibility for not performing up to our own highest standards and capabilities.

No matter our personality type, whether we are feelers or thinkers, type A or type B, the key to leadership success is keen self-awareness. There is little research that indicates a certain personality style or management style is move effective than another. However, there is consistent research that correlates self-awareness with leadership effectiveness.

Today’s organizational workforce is vastly different from the hierarchical, multi-layered “Mad Men” environment. Most organizations have eliminated support and administrative positions that do not have direct contact, impact or responsibility for the end product. As a result, organizations function with fewer people. With fewer people also comes fewer managers. Those who rise to management levels in 21st-century organizations must develop advanced skills in operational efficiency and leadership. Today’s manager is a player coach with a full plate and an advanced ability to multi-task.

Gone are long boardroom meetings and edicts from above with directional and specific tasks to be accomplished. Today’s managers are expected to understand the big picture and execute on the fine details. Success is incumbent upon the leader’s ability to succinctly, effectively and efficiently execute on many issues simultaneously. How does one assess and prepare for a leadership career? Become self-aware, take responsibility, learn to motivate, be a listener and surround yourself with people who value those same traits.

5 Steps to Become a Better 21st-Century Leader:

  1. Become self-aware. Participate in a 360-degree assessment, own it and learn from it.
  2. Before assigning blame, make a list of things you could have done to prevent an unwanted outcome.
  3. Learn about what motivates people; it’s not money, and it’s not the golden rule.
  4. Listen more than you talk; it’s amazing what you hear people say if you actually listen before adding your part.
  5. Don’t hire people like you; hire people who have the same values you do. Hire diversity in thought, in experience and in culture.

The new rule is we don’t have time to sort through drama. Blame, finger-pointing and accusations are the path toward failure. The 21st-century leader is poised for success through active engagement in being better, not by pointing out those who aren’t.