I remember as a kid in the 70s being taught a policy to turn off lights when I was the last to leave a room. People put stickers on light switches with that message.
I don’t see that message that much any more. People seem to generally project that saving energy is better than not saving energy, but I see the idea more used to market selling products than changing personal behavior. I’ll leave for another time the counterproductivity of selling more things to reduce consuming resources.
I’d rather talk about personal responsibility and consuming resources. I have found responsibility one of the most fundamental concepts in leadership, principally in my words to live by
Don’t look for blame but take responsibility for making things better to the extent you can.
I say these words to myself almost daily.
If responsibility only helped us lead, it would probably make it worth practicing. It does more: taking responsibility when I can improves my life more than almost anything. It gets you to look forward to solutions instead of backward at problems. You argue less with others and feel guilty less yourself. I could go on.
So I’ve learned to look for ways to take responsibility.
Turning off lights when I leave a room empty is one of them. I’ll talk briefly about why consuming resources matters, then return to lights, but my point is not about conserving resources, important as I consider it. I’m talking about you improving your life.
Everybody knows at least the name of the law of nature, “The conservation of energy.” If you use energy somewhere it can’t come from nothing. It must have come from somewhere.
Here’s my model for consuming resources like energy. When I turn on a light, air conditioner, etc, somewhere a bit more coal gets put into a furnace to provide the electrical power. It may not take much, but it’s not zero. It’s not merely possible it will happen. It has to happen. And I caused it. I am responsible for that extra coal.
The coal burns. Mercury enters the atmosphere. Carbon enters the atmosphere. Other pollution enters the atmosphere. Less coal is available for future lights.
There is no maybe, possibly, or likely. Those things happen. It hurts people. Technology doesn’t stop any of those effects.
Do you have asthma or know someone who does? Have you heard about sea levels rising? Changes in climate?
My model, simplified:
Lights on -> smoke, pollution, asthma, climate change
Simple, isn’t it? Same for using air conditioners, heaters, cars, planes, ovens, etc. You can complicate it by talking about your reasons for turning on the light, air conditioner, or whatever; or for not turning it off, but that doesn’t change this model.
You are responsible for your contribution to these things, as responsible as if you took a puff of a cigarette and blew it into a child’s face. Yes, others contributed too and any one act of yours doesn’t contribute that much, but you have something you can take responsibility.
I’m not talking about this to talk about blame or guilt. I’m talking about responsibility.
If you fancy yourself a leader, at least one who doesn’t want to hurt people, you can do something about it. If you don’t take responsibility for your actions, you’re holding yourself back from your potential as a leader.
Improving your life
You can forget how nature works and ignore that when you touch a light switch, drive your car, fly in a plane, etc you hurt people — maybe it’s worth it, only you know your needs. If I didn’t understand nature I might be able to enjoy my blissful ignorance. But I do so I can’t.
My point is that if taking responsibility improves your life in every other area, wouldn’t you expect it to here? Look around you. Are any lights on that don’t need to be? If it’s winter, have you heated the place more than you need to? Could you wear a sweater? If it’s summer, have you cooled it more than you need to? Could you drive less? Fly less? Buy less stuff you don’t need?
Can you imagine taking responsibility for reducing how much resources you consume improving your life? How about improving your leadership skills? I don’t care about assuaging feelings of guilt. I suggest you don’t feel guilty even if you do use more lights than you need. You’re an adult, I presume you considered your choice the best you could make.
I’m talking about practicing taking responsibility, not for anyone else but for yourself. Even if nobody knows what you did. So that the next time you can take responsibility you’re more prepared. You do it without thinking about it, because it feels natural.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book