Blaming others when something doesn’t go to plan is one of the most insidious (and unfortunately, most common) leadership behaviors. It’s a cancer in your culture that has to be eradicated.
When a leader tolerates the blame game, excuses become the norm, and organizational politics thrives.
I came to believe over time that excuses are irrelevant. Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy, but every excuse I heard just started to sound like “the dog ate my homework”. It didn’t matter what came out of a person’s mouth, that’s the only thing my brain would translate it into.
We all know that shit happens, no matter how well you run things. You can’t anticipate every potential scenario. It happens to the best, it happens to the rest.
But the distinction between good management and excuses is down to one thing and one thing only. Timing.
If you take accountability for a problem when it arises, and proactively look for ways to resolve it with your team, well, that’s excellent leadership. You go to your boss and you explain the situation, what you’re doing about it, and how expectations might have to be shifted: that’s what strong leaders do.
Bad news by rocket, good news by rickshaw!
But you may be afraid to deliver bad news… so you cover up, avoid, or simply ignore the problem. You hope that things will magically improve… but things rarely do. And when you inevitably fail to deliver, guess what? The dog just ate your homework.
Knowing this, why wouldn’t every leader just behave the right way, all the time, instead of just hoping that something will change and leaving it until the last minute to address.
You may have a boss who doesn’t want to hear bad news: he just prefers to shoot the messenger. You have to be a really strong leader to proactively manage a boss like that.
Weak leaders will avoid, and just hope that they can delay the explosion for as long as possible, relying on the, ‘not my fault, boss‘ defense.
There are two sides to this. If you have to deliver bad news, you need to do so irrespective of your boss’s lack of composure. And you have to do so in a way that says, “I’m not making excuses. I’m taking accountability for stepping into the breach and fixing this. I own it. And my job is to navigate the organization through to the other side of this problem”.
Equally, you have to encourage your people by rewarding those who choose to take the path of strength and proactiveness. And to make it clear that post-fact excuses carry no currency. You need to create a “no blame, no excuses” culture!