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. (And, by extension, God’s fault.)
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.Last month, we missed our budget. I was disappointed. So was the entire Executive Leadership Team. We had worked so hard to hit our numbers. But, we missed. It happens, right?
A few days later, I was meeting with Ilene, one of our consultants. She asked me, “So, how did July end up?” I admitted that we had missed our budget. She innocently asked, “So why did you miss?”
I then did what most CEOs do in this situation. I blamed the current economic environment. “Well, the market is tough right now,” I 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.” I then went on to cite the U.S. Census Bureau, Publishers Weekly, and other industry publications.
I finished with what I thought was a note of optimism. “We didn’t do what we had hoped, but we’re still ahead of last year.”
She then said, “Okay, I get that the environment is tough. But, let’s be honest, it’s always tough, right?”
“Yes,” I acknowledged, not quite knowing where she was going. Then she dropped a bombshell on my psyche.
“Mike, what is it about your leadership that led to this outcome?”
“Excuse me,” I replied, knowing full well what she had just asked. Nevertheless, she gently repeated the question.
Honestly, I think I was speechless for a full two minutes. “Well, I’m not exactly sure,” I stammered. “That’s a great question, but I don’t know quite what to say.”
Thankfully, she gave me a little help. “As long as the problem is ‘out there,’ Mike, 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.” I nodded in agreement, still not sure if I liked what I was hearing.
She patiently waited for the weight of her observation to sink in. We then spent the next couple of hours examining my behavior. As it turns out, I was not only making excuses for myself, I was making excuses for my team. I was too easily letting them off the hook. I slowly began to see a direct link between my leadership and our 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 have continued to ask myself this question over the last several weeks. 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.