I was involved in a project this week that involved multiple stakeholders inside and outside the organization with a very aggressive schedule and many complicated action steps to complete the project by a hard and fast deadline. I was not the project manager but I was an important team lead representing one large stakeholder to the project. While we did complete the project by the deadline, the process was emotionally draining and relationships were damaged as we resorted to what I call the Blame Game. As leaders, it’s important to realize that we respond to others based upon how we see ourselves. If we are confident and mentally strong, we embrace change and realize that failure is an integral part of learning. If we’re fearful of rejection, we tend to look for excuses that explain our lack of performance. As I reflect on the experience, I wanted to learn more about why we so quickly respond to our own deficiencies by blaming others. Pointing fingers at one another really doesn’t help the situation.
Blame—is incredibly selfish behavior: People who make excuses tend to overemphasize themselves while at the same time denying the negative aspects of their behavior.
Blame—brings a feeling of control: The person who blames others is usually in the weak position.
Blame—lessens the feeling of helplessness: People who feel helpless often do not have the skills to deal with the problem at hand.
Blame—spreads like a contagion: The attitude of helplessness, making excuses, and blaming others can spread.
Blaming others is a poor strategy. Not simply because everyone can see through it. There’s a more essential reason why blame is a bad idea: Blame prevents learning. If something isn’t your fault, then there’s no reason for you to do anything differently. Which means, in all probability, you’ll make the same mistake in the future. That will lead to more blame. It’s a cycle that almost always ends badly. So next time, when I am once again in a similar situation, I will accept the blame.
Contrary to what I may feel in the moment, taking the blame is the power move, strengthening my position, not weakening it. First of all, because once you’ve taken responsibility for something, you can do something about it, which gives you strength.
But also because it takes courage to own your blame, and that shows strength. It immediately silences anyone who might try to blame you — what’s the point if you’ve already taken the blame? The “blame you” conversation is over. Now you can focus on solving problems.
Being defensive makes you slippery. Taking responsibility makes you trustworthy. You might think it puts you at risk because others may see an opening and jump on you. But that’s not what usually happens.
Taking the blame serves as an example. When you take the blame, others get embarrassed about not taking the blame themselves. When they see you don’t get shot, they feel emboldened to take the risk.