01/10/2011 08:46 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Workarounds: Are You Standing in Your Own Way?

We have all heard enough gripes, complaints and blame-game finger-pointing to last us a lifetime. At least, most of us have. Some people still insist on trying to complain their way into a better situation. It's almost as if they think that blaming someone else for their predicament will actually solve anything.

We all have our favorite targets for blame and complaint, and there are so many great reasons to point them out. There's even a host of data to prove that you're right when you enter the downward spiral. However, even if you are right, even if you have proof that the other guy did it, you are still left with the simple fact that you're the one in the pickle, and if you're going to get out and improve anything, you had better start with your own self.

That's a cornerstone premise of my new book, "Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work." Although the book takes on a work-related focus, it could just as easily have been subtitled "How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way." In my career of helping people and organizations achieve meaningful goals, I have found that the first workaround to any roadblock usually starts with your own self.

Let's take a deeper look at what this means, why it matters, and what you can do about it. Having been through my own versions of unfair life situations, ranging from a couple of family bankruptcies when I was in school, to living in my car for a while, to jobs to difficult economies, I understand that life isn't necessarily fair. The most significant lesson I learned through my challenges is the simple truth that if you don't do something about what's blocking you, no one else will.

If you still have a job or run a small business, you may well run up against frustrating processes, misaligned teams, or plain old negative and resistant people. You can complain all you want and you'll still be stuck with processes, teams and resistance. However, if you can ask yourself one simple question, you may find yourself able to work around whatever is in the way and get things moving again.

That one simple question: What can you do to make a difference in your job (life, relationships, health, etc.) that requires no one's permission other than your own? Now, the intellectually gifted but perhaps not-so-intelligent will make all kinds of arguments about why it's not fair to shoulder the burden on your own, or why it's risky to take the first step, or they'll simply fall back on the old but-it's-their-fault blame game.

The only problem with their arguments is that they're often right! Sometimes it's not fair, it can be risky, and it could be the other guy's fault. So what?

What are you supposed to do if you see the car bearing down on you as you're crossing the street with the light in your favor? You can make the argument that you're the one in the right, all right. If you do, you might just wind up being dead right. You win. You're dead.

What can you do that would make a difference? How about getting out of the way, if you can? Silly argument? Depends on whether you think it's worth doing what you can or if you prefer arguing with that two-and-a-half-ton car.

How about at work, where the risks aren't quite as grave, physically? What should you do if the other guy is making things difficult? What if the other person or team is actually maneuvering to make you look bad? What should you do if another department is using rules, procedures or processes to block what you need to get done?

You do what you can to make a difference all on your own! Why would you? Simple, really. Aren't you the one experiencing the negative result of the other guy's behavior? Sure you are. Would you prefer to stand in front of the office version of the onrushing car, or would it make sense to do what you can to make a difference?

This is what real accountability is all about: recognizing the situation for what it is, seeing a possibly better outcome, and being willing to own the response-ability to bring about the improvement. Even if no one else ever goes along, and you can make at least some small improvement, why wouldn't you do what you can? After all, you will be the one to experience at least a little bit of improvement.

Of course, there are those out there who will continue to bitch and moan that things won't be perfect, so they won't budge. In "Workarounds That Work," I call that striving for being perfectionally correct when directionally correct will do -- classically said, they let perfection serve as the enemy of the good.

Something surprising will show up if you are willing to keep asking that one simple question about what you can do to make a difference all on your own: once you make the first improvement, no matter how small, no matter how apparently insignificant, you will notice the difference. Once you recognize that the improvement came about because of your own actions, you will find both an increased sense of self-confidence as well as an increased ability to discover other small steps you can take.

It's the old journey of a thousand miles thing -- you have to take the first step if you have any hope of getting there. You may also know the truth of this advice by another proverb: "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness."

Adlai Stevenson said of Eleanor Roosevelt, "She would rather light candles than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world," in an address to the United Nations general assembly given in 1962.

I encourage you to do what you can to work around the darkness in which you may find yourself. Start by working around your own reticence to step out and make a difference. You may just wind up warming your own world.

I would love to hear from you about challenging situations that you may be facing and what you can do that will help you work around whatever stands in your way.

Please leave a comment here, or drop me an e-mail to let me know your experience.


If you would like a free chapter of Russell's new book, click here. In celebration of the official launch of the book today, he is offering a free team coaching session to anyone who buys 10 or more copies of the book this week and e-mails him a copy of their receipt.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. His new book, "Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work," is now available in bookstores and online. You can find out more about Russell at You can also download a free chapter of his new book by going to and clicking "Download a free chapter." Contact Russell by e-mail at