Accountability, ownership, and responsibility often go hand-in-hand, and you definitely know when you see it, or in some cases, when you don’t.
Many years ago, I recall having an “opportunity” dropped into my lap by one of my company’s top salespeople. An opportunity that was virtually impossible to make successful because the salesperson essentially sold a package of products and services that weren’t supported with existing software, processes, or staff. The salesperson was celebrated for landing this high-value client, and praised for their creativity in tailoring products and services specific to this client’s unique needs. In actuality they sold something that didn’t exist and left the support team to figure out how to make it all work exactly as pitched to the client, while taking 100% of the credit.
Creativity and innovative process eventually turned to frustration among our team as we realized we were going through an exercise in futility, from which there would be no success. In the midst of a particularly challenging discussion, my manager tossed her arms up in the air, laughed a little maniacally, and said “…well, some people are Teflon and others are Velcro! It looks like we’re ALL Velcro!” And then we set about even more determined to figure out how to make it work.
Of course, Teflon refers to the non-stick surface that when applied to people, allows all accountability, responsibility, and ownership to slide completely away, while always seeming to stick to others, known as the Velcro people. This has become one of my standard assessments of people as I go through life, and I find that it typically describes most in a fairly accurate manner.
So, what is it that defines which type of person we are? Is it personality? Core values? Pride of ownership? Something else? Are we either one or the other, or perhaps a combination of both, depending on circumstances? I suspect that all of these are true to some extent, and I often ponder this when encountering Teflon people in particular.
Myself, I am a Velcro person and have been for as long as I can remember. Yes, I’m that person who will accept an assignment, request for assistance, etc., even when I know that I don’t have the bandwidth to take it on, and sometimes will later have some feelings of resentment for it. However, not too long ago, I purposely took the opposite position and put on the shiny Teflon suit, deliberately shifting responsibility elsewhere when I could have just as easily owned it myself.
I felt liberated and proud of myself, and was in love with my shiny new suit! Well…for about five minutes, and then the guilt often associated with Velcro people kicked in, and honestly, I’ve felt bad about it ever since. Dare I say, so much so that I’m somewhat ashamed to admit my deviation from normal.
Much like it felt unnatural for me to deflect responsibility, I’m sure the same must be true for the Teflon person to lose their non-stick capabilities and become saddled with the burdensome responsibility of ownership and accountability, although we may never know for certain.
As for the impossible challenge faced by our team, we not only figured out a way to make things work, but we made them work really, really well. I can only surmise that Velcro people have a great deal of resolve, tenacity, and determination to succeed even when odds are stacked against them, so be proud if you’re a Velcro person, and know that if you’re Teflon, it’s hard to get by without us.
VELCRO and Teflon are trademarks of their respective manufacturers.