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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 it 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. It’s been said, “the only thing that happens when you throw dirt is that you lose ground.” 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 positions 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 comes 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 that occur on their watch? What say you?


Image credit: Colored Lines

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    Dan Nolan

    August 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    The role of the leader is to be a magnifying glass when things go well and a heat shield when they do not.  Those who reverse the order are not leaders, merely authoritarians.  

      Mike Myatt

      August 15, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      Thanks for sharing your insights Dan. As long as the heat shield is used to protect others vs. deflect to others we’re in agreement. Thanks again for stopping by Dan. 

    Tanveer Naseer

    August 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Hi Mike,

    I remember only too well working for bosses who had a tendency to place blame on others whenever failure occurred.  In one place, I remember how when a problem happened the team members would discuss who they thought would take the fall when our boss found out.  As you can imagine, team morale fell the more our boss would react to problems by casting blame on us instead of helping us to deal with it.

    That for me is what’s at the heart behind why some leaders choose to blame others while others don’t.  The former are only interested in knowing ‘who did what’ when what they should be focusing on is how they can help their team respond to this problem and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

    Granted, there will be times when one individual or a few are clearly to blame for a mishap or breakdown.  But if leaders demonstrate that they’re more driven by seeing their team members succeed, employees won’t shy away from taking responsibility for their part in the problem because they know their leader has their back in providing them with the resources and if necessary, guidance to help resolve the issue.

      Mike Myatt

      August 16, 2011 at 1:54 am

      Hi Tanveer:

      Thanks for sharing the astute observations. All of your thoughts resonate with me as being both practical and actionable. Thanks again for stopping by Tanveer. 


    August 16, 2011 at 1:55 am

    I totally agree with u Mike. I like to try and always examine myself even if one of my team members fail. Normally it is a lack of communication or inspiration on my part. I would rather side on taking the blame myself than to blame someone else. Everything rises and falls from the top. It is the two edged sword of responsibility. Thanks as always, for a great blog.

      Mike Myatt

      August 16, 2011 at 3:40 am

      Thanks for the words of wisdom Tom. I always appreciate hearing from you. 

    Elliot Ross

    August 17, 2011 at 1:11 am

    So true –

    A few years ago, here in Canada we had a horrible situation where a a food products company was linked to a disease outbreak linked to many deaths & illnesses – the original news broadcasts had Michael McCain, the CEO standing there stating; “the buck stops here…”

    I could not find any video of that (probably locked behind broadcaster walls) but a summary is here


    (B-School buffs will notice similarity with Tylenol 20+ years ago)

    I do have one question;

    Our political leaders (irrespective of country or ‘current affairs’) cannot seem to do this. No accountability.

    From ‘Iran Gate’ in the US to the ‘Gomery Affair’ here in Canada – pointing fingers, blame & scapegoats seem to be the norm in politics.

    Is this due to lack of something on the part of our elected officials?

    Or is this lack in **us** as voters – for whom we say; ‘he/she screwed up – vote ’em out!’

    I don’t have an answer to that – but perhaps if we can fix that – we may find our respective countries start growing significantly improved levels of trust.

    Best Regards

      Mike Myatt

      August 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm

      Hi Elliot:

      Thanks for your comment and for your question. While it’s just my opinion, I believe the majority of our elected officials are politicians vs. statesmen (see: http://hub.n2growth.com/how-to-stand-apart), and they are certainly not leaders. Most of them simply don’t have the courage or character necessary to be personally accountable. Likewise, we as the electorate deserve what we get when we allow those in leadership positions who are clearly not leaders to remain in office. Thanks for stopping by Elliot. 

    Dan Kennedy

    August 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I think that on the whole, you are absolutely right; that mistakes do happen and a team leader should be the one to take the responsibility for the mistake. However, if the same mistake continues to happen; I think that the fault should be shared by both the leader and the individual. 

    Dan Kennedy

    August 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I think you are right. A leader should be able to teach, communicate and adapt to different scenarios. If mistakes are being repeated by teammembers consistently, then there is something wrong with the leader.

    Leadership and Blame « Management Briefs

    August 29, 2011 at 11:00 am

    […] By Mike Myatt   Article […]

    Lee Daigle

    September 6, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Hi Mike.

    Thanks for the insightful article. Unfortunately I know all too well what it’s like to work for someone who blames others for things he should take responsibility for. I will keep these thoughts in mind for when I have my own employees someday.

    Melissa jackson

    September 7, 2011 at 5:25 am

    A leader should always take the blame for what happens
    on their watch. They are the ones that get paid the big bucks and have the
    control of what goes on at the work place. So it’s only fair that they take the
    blame because it is their responsibility to train their employees. If the
    leader try to blame the workers it shows lack of responsibility for the
    position that he or she holds.

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