Blame is the oldest game in town. It was invented by Adam who, after eating of the forbidden fruit, told God, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). In other words, it’s Eve’s fault. Dorothy Leeds in “Good Lessons from Bad Women” performed her one- woman show at the inaugural MACs Celebrate You! Women’s Entrepreneur Summit which wrestles with the concept of goodness and dives deep into a world where good is bad and bad is good.
Not much has changed since Adam’s day. Ask almost anyone why something bad happened and they will point to someone or something else. In my experience, it is exceedingly rare for people to stand up and take responsibility. Let’s say for example a company misses their budget for the prior month. The CEO is disappointed as well as the entire Executive Leadership Team. They had worked so hard to hit their numbers. But, they missed. It happens, right?
A few days later, the CEO, Cheryl, was meeting with Karen, one of the company's consultants. She asked, “So, how did February end up?” Cheryl admitted that they had missed their budget. Karen innocently asked, “So why did you miss?”
Like most CEOs do in this situation. Cheryl blamed the current economic environment. “Well, the market is tough right now,” she explained. “Gas prices are up. So are interest rates. This has taken a bite out of discretionary spending. Consumers are just not frequenting bookstores like we had hoped.” Cheryl then went on to cite the U.S. Census Bureau, Publishers Weekly, and other industry publications.
she finished with what she thought was a note of optimism. “We didn’t do what we had hoped, but we’re still ahead of last year.”
Karen then said, “Okay, I get that the environment is tough. But, let’s be honest, it’s always tough, right?”
“Yes,” Cheryl acknowledged, not quite knowing where she was going. Then she dropped a bombshell on her psyche.
“Cheryl, what is it about your leadership that led to this outcome?”
“Excuse me,” Cheryl replied, knowing full well what she had just asked. Nevertheless, she gently repeated the question.
The CEO was speechless for a full two minutes. “Well, I’m not exactly sure,” she stammered. “That’s a great question, but I don’t know quite what to say.”
Thankfully, she gave her a little help. “As long as the problem is ‘out there,’ Cheryl, you can’t fix it. You’re just a victim. I’m not trying to shame you. I am trying to empower you. You can’t change your results until you accept full responsibility for them.” Cheryl nodded in agreement, still not sure if she liked what she was hearing.
She patiently waited for the weight of her observation to sink in. They then spent the next couple of hours examining Cheryl's behavior. As it turns out, she was not only making excuses for herself, she was making excuses for her team. She was too easily letting them off the hook. She slowly began to see a direct link between her leadership and their operating results as a Company.
The bad news about taking responsibility is that you can’t blame someone else. It always comes down to your leadership. There is always something else you could have said or done to produce a different result.
But the good news is that once you accept responsibility, you can change the result. Why? Because your behavior as a leader is 100 percent under your control. Changing the result is as simple—or as hard—as changing your behavior.
Imagine how different your family, church, company, or even country could be if everyone took personal responsibility for their outcomes. Perhaps Gandhi was thinking the same thing when he said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
I ask myself this question: What is it about my leadership that is producing these results? It’s a powerful—and empowering—question. And, it applies to just about every situation.
So let me ask you, are you happy with the outcomes you are experiencing in your life and work? Where would you like to see change? What have you been blaming on other people or your circumstances? What is it about your leadership that is producing these outcomes?
Until you are willing to ask this question—and face the answers—you will continue to get the same old results.