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Personal Effectiveness and Responsibility

Developing Your Personal Effectiveness

Developing Your Personal Effectiveness

On the surface, “personal effectiveness” sounds like a “catch-all” term for anything that an individual can do to be better, stronger, smarter, and more effective! And in some ways, this is quite true. However, the “Excellence” author Stephen Covey has developed a much richer definition when he states:

“The ‘Inside-Out’ approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self / with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making and keeping promises to ourselves precedes making and keeping promises to others. It says it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves.” 

This quotation, drawn from Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Successful People,” presents an interesting definition of “personal effectiveness.” It suggests that our personal effectiveness is the foundation upon which other skills, abilities, and competencies are developed and as we try to be more effective in our relationships with others. That is, if you are not personally effective first (or put another way, if you don’t believe in yourself) you may be building skills, abilities, and competencies on a “bed of sand.”  We therefore need to spend quality time in thinking about the beliefs that we hold, the values and attitudes that have shaped us to date (and the extent to which these may need to change) and the personal goals that we have for ourselves – ultimately to ensure that these provide a solid foundation upon which we can build.

Of course, some people cannot help having what might be called a “victim mentality.” This is someone who doesn’t take responsibility for the bad things that happened around him or her. This is likely to result in relatively low levels of self-esteem and to greatly inhibit personal development. In fact, even though we might not to admit it, many of us engage in at least a little “victim thinking” such as this from time to time. However, we can quickly see that this kind of behavior – that is, blaming others and engaging in “poor me” thinking is actually the opposite of being personally effective. This is simply because it is a behavior pattern that is not oriented toward action, initiative and personal responsibility.

“Thrivers” and “Survivors”

Research in the area of people’s ability to successfully deal with major change and therefore to be generally personally effective shows that people differ significantly in how they respond to the regular challenges within their working world. People who manage change well are often called “thrivers,” and are frequently at the forefront of change, dealing with it positively at the earliest possible stages. Other names for these types of people are pioneers or early adopters. People who generally find all significant change difficult or feel somewhat victim to it are often called “survivors” (because they hope to survive or prevail through the change but not engage directly in any activity to manage it). Other names for these types of people are followers and resistors.

One of the most powerful ways to take action, initiative and responsibility (and therefore develop the thriver attitude) is to seek to “model” the behavior you want to adopt yourself to be more personally effective (or even what you want others to adopt) from those pioneer and early adopter types around you. That is, you can elect to lead by example behaving in similar ways to the thrivers. Even if you are not a manager, or supervisor, you have the opportunity to influence the people around you as a personally effective role model and encourage others to do the same. And the more practiced we become in doing this, the easier it gets.

Stretching Yourself is the Key to Developing Greater Personal Effectiveness

Self-limiting beliefs often hold many people back from what they are truly capable of achieving. For example, we may not set personal goals at all, or we may set personal goals that are too high, and so we fail. In actual fact, many of us may well do this intentionally, so we don’t have to grow and change (which is uncomfortable). Avoiding this kind of complacency and stretching yourself involves challenging the constraints or boundaries that appear to restrain you and taking the time to do something difficult and/or something new. And the reward for doing this is that an individual’s biggest personal surges of growth and overall job-satisfaction will often come from stretching him or herself. Don’t forget, people tend to learn more from the mistakes they make than they do from their successes.  People who are “personally effective” are therefore much more likely to be focused managers of change who seek to influence others by taking calculated chances and reasonable risks. Being responsible often means that you have to put in the hard work today so that it pays off in the future.

To provide a few examples of things that any individual might do to stretch him or herself and thereby grow are shown in the list below. As you read this list, perhaps you can highlight a few ideas you think you might consider doing, or even add a few of your own:

  • Visit a house of worship different than where you have attended before.
  • Get into a conversation with someone you would normally avoid.
  • Take a different form of transportation than normal to work. Ride a bike, walk, take a taxi, take the subway – just something different than what you’ve done before.
  • Take a college class on a subject where you have an interest but no expertise.
  • Read a book about something you know nothing about.
  • Go to a social event where everyone is twice or half your age.
  • Visit a museum on a subject that you know nothing about.
  • Participate in an online discussion about a new topic.
  • Learn to play a new game.
  • Go to a concert of a different style of music than what you normally listen to.
  • Use a different computer operating system than normal.
  • Take the ACT, SAT, or GRE tests (there are free samples online) just for fun to see how you do.
  • Watch a sport you don’t understand.

None of these items are particularly challenging in themselves, but if it is something new for you, it may help you grow on many different levels. We grow by doing things that are difficult and unfamiliar. By making an intentional effort to continually experience things that are new and different for us we can improve and expand our capabilities, well beyond the average person.


In the final analysis, stretching yourself is tricky – you want to challenge yourself, but not too much. If you set goals that are too ambitious you will become discouraged and probably give up. You therefore need to be careful to commence with “baby steps” when starting in on a new or difficult plan or task. It is much more important to be successful than it is to achieve a huge or “step-change” improvement. By setting smaller, incremental goals and targets for yourself you build-in frequent reinforcement, which keeps you motivated and moving ahead.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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