He sat up straight in his chair with his arms rigid at his side lifting himself slightly out of his seat. Brian was getting mad again. I would have worried about his coming over the table at me, except I’d seen him this way before. So had everyone else in the office.
“So, what’s the problem?” I asked.
“They keep giving me new things to do.”
“They’re all part of your job, aren’t they?”
“Yes, but nobody shows me how to do anything around here.”
“Have you asked for help?”
“I shouldn't have to ask. It's their job to teach me.”
Brian no longer works for my client.
The Critical Bar is the imaginary boundary between two types of behaviors. Below the bar are Blame, Excuses and Denial. Above the bar are Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility.
Our choices concerning a life above or below the bar affect every facet of our businesses and lives.
Below the Bar
Think of someone you know who lives below the bar. Someone who denies there is a problem, or who makes excuses or blames others. It shouldn’t be hard, everyone knows someone like that. Most of us know many.
Describe him or her. Is the person happy? Eager? Passionate? Engaging? Healthy? Innovative? Disciplined? Inquisitive? Decisive? Self-reliant? Adaptable? A problem-solver? A self-starter? A good teammate? A leader? Is he or she aware? A constant learner?
Do people like to be around this person?
You get the idea, a lot of “nos.”
Finally, ask yourself: “Is this person likely to succeed?”
Above the Bar
Now think of someone who lives above the bar. Someone who is accountable, who takes ownership and is responsible. Describe this person using the above questions.
This time a lot of “yesses.”
Ask yourself: “Do people like to be around this person?”
“Is this person likely to succeed?”
I have presented this concept to hundreds of people and have never heard a dissenting opinion. People who live above the bar are far more likely to be happy and successful than those who live below it.
They don’t even try.
Why is that?
The reasons each trait contributes to happiness and success may be obvious to you, but there is a fundamental difference between above and below the bar behaviors that may not be:
People living below the bar have accepted – consciously or not – that their fates are beyond their influence.
They have surrendered.
They are victims and have resigned themselves to helplessness.
They don’t even try, and the failure rate for not trying is 100%, every time.
People easily recognize below-the-Bar behavior – in others.
I suggested above that we easily recognize below-the-bar behavior- in others. Is it possible that we live, at least partially, below the bar? (If we answered “no,” then perhaps we are in denial..)
If we choose to live above the bar, we first must be aware of our behavior.
None of the qualities highlighted by the questions above require special upbringing, skill or education, but every one of them is inhibited by blame, excuses and denial, and every one of them is within our power to improve.
It’s hard to spot below the Bar behavior in ourselves…
People rarely admit to living below the bar.
That’s one of the signs of below the bar behavior. But for those of us who do and are trying to change, it can be hard to spot below-the-bar behavior in ourselves.
We easily recognize “John did it” or “Accounting didn’t get me the numbers,” or “Things will be fine” as blame, excuses and denial. But take a look at the list below.
Do you recognize any of these behaviors in yourself?
- Do you believe other people “don’t,” or “won’t” or “will always” or “will never” do this or that?
- Do you avoid situations in which you have to report on what you’ve accomplished?
- Do you talk more about what you can’t do than what you can do?
- Do you find yourself listing reasons when confronted with constructive criticism?
- Do you seldom get a fair shot at things you want?
- Do you compare your earnings, success, or position to other people who are less deserving?
- Are people comfortable sharing gossip with you?
- Are most people you know luckier than you?
- Are you often late for appointments because of – a train, traffic, distractions?
- Are you a better driver than 90% of the idiots out there?
Those are just a few of the more subtle indicators of below the bar behavior. When we answer yes to a lot of the questions, there is a high probability that we are living below the bar, whether or not we are aware of it.
Life above the bar is entirely a matter of choice. Accepting that fact is the first step toward living above the bar. There are no excuses and there is no one to blame but ourselves if we choose the consequences of a life below the bar.
As Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, wrote “O would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us.”
Transforming our lives almost always requires an accountability partner, someone who can tell us about the bald spot we’ve never seen.
To get help, act above the bar and ask for it.
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