Updated: Sep 6, 2021
The Problem With Blame
Over the years I have made a few observations how leaders and managers tend to handle situations that have gone south or are heading that way. When problems arise, for most of us we prefer the problem be someone else’s mistake so it doesn’t reflect on us. Some people go their entire life trying to avoid blame.
It seems to be important to clarify our innocence to avoid any negative perceptions about us. Once the blame has conveniently been assigned to someone else, we breathe a sigh of relief.
Sometimes we get so caught up in blame-shifting, we lose sight of perhaps the most important factor, the solution. Somehow blamelessness becomes our highest priority, or at least one of them.
“Some people’s blameless lives are to blame for a good deal.” – Dorothy L. Sayers
We will go to great lengths to make sure blame doesn’t stick to us. Inevitably we can’t avoid blame forever. We often truly are at fault. Our employees always see our faults, even when we re-assign them. When we admit our faults, we are usually the last to know.
Sometimes the question goes from “Why can’t people do anything right?” to “Why can’t I do anything right?” We associate fault with our identity. Sometimes we internalize blame and beat ourselves up. We believe the more blame becomes attached to our name, the less others will think of us, and the lower our self-image will be. We can become paralyzed by the fear of what others think of us. The lower our self-image is, the more it hurts to receive blame or criticism. It’s a vicious cycle that spirals downhill unless interrupted. This is not a healthy way to think and will lead every leader down a black hole of dispair.
“With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.” ―Wayne W. Dyer
If you are a person in charge, and have authority to produce results through other people, you may have learned that if something goes wrong under your care, it’s your fault. There may be some truth to this, but there is a difference between fault and responsibility. It may be entirely, or partially your fault. Either way it is your responsibility as the leader to determine the reasons the problem happened, so we can determine the solution and how to prevent it from happening next time. This is far more important that assigning blame.
I have seen people in the middle of a crisis, become fixated on proclaiming “It’s not my fault!” We see this with customer service. Instead of solving the customers issue that would require a simple apology (regardless of who is right), they make it personal and take up their need for innocence or justice. The solution gets ignored, and the problem grows.
Blame is one sided and typically leads to feelings of judgement. Blame drives people further away from taking responsibility for their actions, not closer. When blame is quickly heaped upon a person already struggling with their self-image, they move further away from taking ownership and initiative to fix the problem. Their fight or flight instincts kick in and self preservation safeguards go up. Their confidence takes a hit and they lose hope that they are capable of being part of the solution. This leads to a feeling stuck and helpless.
Ironically, some struggling managers are quick to deflect blame onto their employees thinking that somehow, they will respond differently. We pass on the disfunction because we don’t feel strong enough to stop it.
It’s Our Cultures Fault!
We want so badly to believe that all of our problems are because of our environment. It’s the people in our lives that let us down. It’s my parents fault, It’s the political environment. It’s the younger generation. Or my favorite, “it’s McDonalds fault that I am unhealthy”. The truth is that we are all 100% responsible for our own view of the world. When we stop trying to bend our worldview (or religion) around our personal justification and begin yeilding our lives around others, we will learn to appreciate what we have, and the people around us. When you see the world as a jungle, survival at others expense becomes our goal. When we see the world as a mission field, helping people at our expense becomes our joy.
No one else is responsible for your crappy worldview! It is 100% your responsiblity, so get over it and start doing something for others and your worldview will improve.
When blame is big, responsibility is small. Responsibility is the missing ingredient that gets pushed aside for blamelessness. Responsibility takes ownership of the problem, but more importantly it takes ownership for the solution. It is positive outcome focused, rather than avoidance driven.
Great Leaders have the ability of taking the focus off the problem and redirecting it towards resolutions. They encourage ownership of solutions both corporately and individually. When people begin to take ownership of their own solutions, they begin to grow personally and the organization grows.
There is a fork in the road that all in leadership have to face. This choice we make will determine if we take flight, or if we remain grounded by blame and doubt. Leaders in most any field inevitably must go through this doorway to get to your personal launch pad.
When you make the conscious decision to commit to being 100% responsible for your life, and let go of the need for blamelessness, you will be free from the control of blame. Those people in your past that helped form your self-perception by using blame or control, will have no authority or power over you any longer. You will be free.
Once a person makes this choice, the light comes on and the blinders come off and a new refreshing outlook on their career and life begins. Those of you that have crossed this bridge understand what I am describing. Everyone has a different story for how they got to this place, but we must all get through this to find clarity.
“Once a person makes this choice, the light comes on and the blinders come off and a new refreshing outlook on their career and life begins”
The day you take 100% responsibility for your life is the day you will conquer the ugly blame monster and learn to give yourself and others a little grace and learn to pass it on. It’s the Law of Exchange. Like a trapeze artist, you grab ahold of responsibility with one hand and let go of blamelessness with the other. You go from bondage to freedom with one swing.
“If you want to create the life of your dreams, then you are going to have to take 100% responsibility for your life as well. That means giving up all your excuses, all your victim stories, all the reason why you can’t and why you haven’t up until now, and all your blaming of outside circumstances. You have to give them all up forever“– Jack Canfield – Taking 100% Responsibility for Your life. (great article).
John Maxwell says “You have to give up, to go up”.
When you lead by example by being 100% responsible, people take notice and navigate toward you. When you give up blame, and embrace solutions, you become a magnet for future leaders. You become a vehicle to influence and prepare your employees for the time they come to their own fork in the road.
You can’t give away what you don’t have. So go get it!
I would love to hear your story of how you got over this obstacle.