Mr. Responsibility & Umbrellas

It seems like my husband is always buying umbrellas. On the surface, the habit feels random. Recently we were buying weekly groceries and he walked up to the checkout, plopped two golf umbrellas down on the belt, and said, “add these,” just like it was a gallon of milk.


Still, I know my husband well, and, as a by-product, I know why he does this.

One of his top strengths is what the StrengthsFinder assessment calls “Responsibility.”  As the assessment says, he has a certain “psychological ownership” for making things work.  In other words, when something goes wrong (or continually goes wrong), his mind evaluates whether the problem was preventable, and, if so, what needs to change to keep it from happening again.

This explains his umbrella obsession.

You see, our kids get on the school bus at 6:55am.  This means our mornings have a tight schedule, and the "to do list" must unfold in the predawn hours like a well-choreographed ballet.  If this doesn’t happen, then we all run late, attitudes go south, relationships suffer, buses get missed…and the earth spins off its axis sending us all spiraling into the sun.  (Not really, but some mornings it feels that dramatic).

One of the potential wild cards is the weather.  On days when we are surprised by rain on our way out the door, things can go haywire fast.  Suddenly, it is a mad dig through the closets and car trunks to find umbrellas.  Often, the umbrellas that we DO find don’t stay open or have some broken ribs, making them do that droopy, sad-umbrella sag.  All in all, 6:50am is no time to be frantically dashing around the house on an umbrella treasure hunt.


Billy had to participate in this umbrella panic session just once to declare the need for the existence of an “umbrella bucket” at the front door.  For him, it was simple: buy four umbrellas (one for each member of the family), put them in a predictable and convenient location (beside the front door), return them there after any and every use, and then never worry about it again.  Problem. Thought.  System.  Solution.  Done.

Sure enough.  Since the “system” has been built, we’ve not faced any predawn precipitation perpetuated panic. (Say that five times fast).

Billy’s boss says something that I love.  “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you're currently experiencing.” 

That's a simple statement, but so true.  We felt panic around rain and bus stops because we had no system in place to ensure that umbrellas would be nearby and ready to use.  I don’t know why we were surprised when we didn’t find umbrellas handy.  Nothing about our system would have produced that result.  Still, in the days before our umbrella system came in, we blamed it on the rain or bad luck or each other (and that "certain someone" that caused us not to have enough time to go find umbrellas).  Instead, we should have blamed the failure on a faulty system.  A little bit of responsibility told Billy that the only entity to blame for stress and chaos was our system.

This dynamic happens everywhere including  our companies and organizations.  Non-existent or faulty systems produce faulty results, and frequently we blame anyone and anything but the system.  The sales don’t come in and everyone wonder’s why…or, worse yet, begins to blame others.    That starts an entirely new dynamic that I call The Blame Game.  I'll play around with that concept tomorrow, but in the meantime, work to identify the people around you who have the responsibility strength.  They are an enormous asset to your team.  A little bit of responsibility goes a long way.  It takes ownership of a problem, creates a tension to solve that problem, and builds a system to get different results.

I’m grateful for the system known as our umbrella bucket…especially on rainy days.

Now, if I can just figure out a system to get that school bus to come at a more reasonable hour.