Note: I recently re-read this book while formulating questions for an interview of its co-authors and found it even more relevant now than I did when first reading it. The material provides a “yellow brick road” to follow, one that leads to individual as well as organizational accountability of the highest order and greatest impact. This is without doubt a “business classic.”
In this revised and updated edition of a book first published in 1994, the co-authors share with their reader what they have learned since their book was first published. Then and now, their objectives are the same: “…to help people become more accountable for their thoughts, feelings, actions, and results; and so that they can move their organizations to even greater heights. And, as they move along this always difficult and often frightening path, we hope that they, like Dorothy and her companions, discover that they really do possess the skills they need to do whatever their hearts desire.”
In this volume, Connors, Smith, and Hickman invoke once again a core concept of a “Line” below which many (most?) people live much (most?) of the time. Theirs is the attitude of victimization: They get stuck on a “yellow brick road” by blaming others for their circumstances; they wait for “wizards” to wave their magic wands; and they expect all of their problems to disappear through little (if any) effort of their own.
What to do? Connors, Smith, and Hickman explain (step-by-step) how to Live Above the Line by assuming much greater accountability for whatever results one may desire. This can be achieved through a four-step process:
1. See It: Recognize and acknowledge the full reality of a situation
2. Own It: Accept full responsibility for one’s current experiences and realities as well as others’
3. Solve It: Change those realities by finding and implementing solutions to problems (often solutions not previously considered) while avoiding the “trap” of dropping back Below the Line when obstacles present themselves
4. Do It: Summon the commitment and courage to follow through with the solutions identified, especially when there is great risk in doing so
How easy it is to summarize this four-step process…and how difficult it is to follow it to a satisfactory conclusion. (When composing brief commentaries such as this, I always fear trivializing important points.) Connors, Smith, and Hickman have absolutely no illusions about the barriers, threats, and challenges that await those who embark on this “journey” to accountability.
As they indicate in this new edition of their book, they have accumulated a wealth of information during the past decade which both illustrates and reconfirms the importance of making a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and assume the ownership of what is required to achieve desired results. This is precisely what Theodore Roosevelt had in mind when praising “the man in the arena” and what W.E. Henley asserts in the final stanza of Invictus:
“It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
Organizations are human communities within which everyone involved must somehow balance personal obligations to themselves with obligations to others. For me, the interdependence of these obligations best illustrates the importance of the Oz Principle: “Accountability for results at the very core of continuous improvement, innovation, customer satisfaction, team performance, talent development and corporate governance movements so popular today.” Connors, Smith, and Hickman go on to observe, “Interestingly, the essence of these programs boils down to getting people to rise above their circumstances and do whatever it takes (of course, within the bounds of ethical behavior) to get the results they want,” not only for themselves but also for everyone else involved in the given enterprise.
Connors, Smith, and Hickman cite Winston Churchill’s admonition, “First we shape our structures, and then our structures shape us.” Were the Steps to Accountability easy to take, if everyone lived and labored Above the Line, there would be no need for this book. There is much of value to be learned from L. Frank Baum’s account of the perilous journey which Dorothy and her companions share. What they finally realized — and so must we — is that, to paraphrase Pogo, “We have met the Wizard and he is us.”