Don’t Take this Personally: Leadership and the 2nd Agreement


I’m going to make perhaps a highly controversial statement about leadership by saying: nothing others do is because of you.  Nothing others do is because of you? Correct, so my next advice would be to not take anything personally.  I wish I had originated this wisdom, but it is the second of four agreements proposed by Don Miguel Ruiz, author of “The Four Agreements,” which easily carry over from personal life to business.  His other agreements are:

1.       Be impeccable with your word
3.       Don’t make assumptions
4.       Always do your best

But none call for the quiet introspection and resolve like the 2nd agreement, “Don’t take anything personally.”

A recent business confrontation became a learning tool in that I was forced to step back and question how these simple, common sense agreements could make a positive difference.  However, the very idea of “nothing others do is because of you, so don’t take anything personally” seemed in direct conflict with EVERYTHING others in my life had said about management, leadership and business.

With this self-reflection, I found that I had a tendency to identify myself with the business “product” and take potential or current customer responses personally when they didn’t agree with me.  Despite my exhaustive attempts to explain the business approach, strategy, and potential outcome as a result of working with my organization, occasionally they said “no.” Then suddenly it hit me—The Four Agreements.

Regarding the stressful business situation, I evaluated my response: Had I been (1) impeccable with my word?  Yes. (2) Did I make any assumptions?  No. (4) Did I do my best?  Yes. I did the best I could at that particular moment.  So, why was I taking it personally? It was simple, ego.

It is possible that “ego” is the greatest destroyer of otherwise talented leaders, and unfortunately, struggling with one’s ego is a lifelong exercise for anyone aware of its negative influence.  The good fortune is that this kind of ego influence usually dissipates when magnified by any conscious attention to it.  Just mentally repeating the four agreements will settle its drive and clear one’s mind to think about the real issues.

As I looked back on past workplace occurrences that ended negatively, it dawned on me that, in each of these incidences, the negative impact was the result of my taking something personally.  It was generally the seed that caused me to reflect negatively about a peer or organization and therefore cause a negative domino effect in future business dealings.

So, if I now apply this to my leadership role in business, what does that mean? As long as I have applied the other three agreements to my daily work life, I no longer will take it personally when an employee disagrees, is difficult to manage, speaks negatively of me, or quits.  Instead, I will focus only on what I can actually control as a leader, ME. As a leader, I will personally focus on the daily action of adhering to the mission of the overall organization that hired me.  I will do my best to hire those that believe in that mission.  I will offer advice, a framework, and goals, but I will also allow employees their own path in how to accomplish that mission.  I will ask that they too be impeccable in their word, not to take anything personally, not to make assumptions, and to always do their best, BUT I will have peace in knowing that at any moment, anything can change.  My job as a leader with this organization is to NOT take it personally but focus on the daily mission of the organization I represent and– as long I have adhered to the other agreements– manage what life presents.

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