Leadership and Blame


In the world of leadership where the traits of accountability and personal responsibility are so highly regarded, I have one question? What’s with all the finger pointing? One of my pet peeves is coming across leaders who think they’re always right, and that any problem, or challenge that arises must clearly be the fault of someone else. Here’s the thing – as a leader, anything that happens on your watch is your responsibility whether you like or not. This level of responsibility just goes with the territory, and leaders who cannot accept this do not deserve to lead. Last I checked we all make mistakes – I know I do. Most of us don’t look for perfection in leaders, we look for leaders who see mistakes as a chance for opportunity, growth and improvement, not an opportunity to blame shift.

Leadership isn’t about blaming others, but realizing any blame levied should rest solely upon the leader. The best leaders will only point the finger at one person – themselves. The truth of the matter is no victories are won by participating in the blame game. Blame doesn’t inspire, it breeds malcontent and discord. If trust is the cornerstone of leadership, then blame can only be viewed as the corrosive behavior that eats away at the foundation. Don’t be the “Teflon” leader who worries about what might stick – be the mature leader who takes the hit, deals with the issue, and moves forward with character. Lead – Don’t blame..

Real leaders won’t accept credit for success, but always claim responsibility for failure. In analyzing why some leaders struggle with blame shifting I’ve concluded it usually comes down to an overabundance of pride or a lack of courage. Excuses, rationalizations, and justifications will never serve as an adequate substitute for courage and humility. Those in leadership position who talk rather than listen, and point fingers rather than take decisive action have simply failed to lead.

We’ve all witnessed leaders who are masters of the quick draw when it come to pointing the finger. These are also the leaders who most quickly lose the respect of those they lead. Almost nothing impugns the character of leader faster than attempting to dodge an issue rather than deal with it. The interesting thing is that distortions and deflections might seem to work in the short-term, but reality always seems to find its way home. The fastest way to make an issue fade into the background is to own it, and then do everything in your power to resolve it. Attempts to do anything else only end up amplifying the issue.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic. Should leaders point fingers and blame others, or own all the issues what occur on their watch? What say you?

Originally posted: N2growth

4 Responses to Leadership and Blame

  1. Kathy August 24, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    It continues to shock me when leaders choose to lay blame, a time- and energy-wasting activity. Greater benefit can be gained from choosing to focus on the problem at hand and/or pick up the pieces and learn from mistakes. Blame inhibits creativity and risk-taking, in turn leading to stagnation and decline. Support and tolerance leads to growth and success. Seems a better choice, no?

  2. Mike Myatt August 25, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    Agreed – Thanks for commenting Kathy.

  3. Steve Heckman August 25, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    Recently I finished a two year “culture change” assignment at a key facility owned by the world’s largest food processing company…with the objective of creating an environment where employees felt empowered for self direction.

    Although we were able to improve employee engagement scores significantly, we continued to receive complaints of leader ‘arrogance’, or as one supervisor termed it: “the God complex”.

    When I confronted the leadership group about their arrogant image, the facility manager immediately pleaded innocence even though he was most often cited by managers, supervisors as well as by the union employees. Clearly he is in denial.

    Needless to say, when leaders are not able to recognize their own behavior problems their ability to lead effectively is severely limited…and they employ the blame game as a substitute for leadership.

    Steve Heckman

  4. John Kemper September 1, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    When a leader shifts blame to a subordinate it shows his weakness and insecurity. Sort of like blaming the previous leader for shortcomings under his watch. Always accept the responsibility and use it as a motivator to move your work group or team in an upwards direction. Blaming a member specifically can reduce morale and cause more and further reaching problems than can be planned for. But as a leader you will have to make sure that you use the moment to teach and adress the problem. You do not want your superiors to have to revist the problem.