Leaders don’t offer, nor do they accept excuses. True leadership demands the character to demonstrate personal responsibility for one’s actions, and the courage to hold others accountable for theirs. Excuses attempt to conceal personal or professional insecurities, laziness, and/or lack of ability. They accomplish nothing but to distract, dilute, and deceive. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
The word “excuse” is most commonly defined as: a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense. History’s greatest leaders have always fostered cultures of commitment, trust, and performance, where action is valued over rhetoric. Leaders who issue or accept excuses are complicit to muting performance and fueling mediocrity.
The problem we face as a society is we live in a time where he or she with the best excuses wins. Excuses have become the rule, and performance has become the exception – a sad commentary to be sure. However the solution is a rather simple one – I’ve always said, people will stop offering excuses the minute those in positions of leadership stop accepting them.
People have overcome poverty, drug addiction, incarceration, abuse, divorce, mental illness, victimization, and virtually every challenge known to man. Life is full of examples of the uneducated, the mentally and physically challenged, people born into war-torn impoverished backgrounds, who could have made excuses, but who instead chose a different path – they chose to overcome the odds and succeed.
John Wooden said, “Never make excuses. Your friends won’t accept them and your foes won’t believe them.” The great thing about performance is it obviates the necessity of an explanation. In these troubled times inept leaders blame their business woes on the economy, while skilled leaders find a way to thrive. Challenges and setbacks are opportunities for growth and development, not permission space for rationalizations and justifications. The best leaders not only understand this, they ensure the entirety of their organization practices it.
Here’s the thing – sane people don’t expect perfection from leaders, but they do expect leaders to be transparent and accountable. Accepting responsibility for your actions, or the actions of your team makes you honorable, and trustworthy – it also humanizes you. People don’t want the talking head of a politician for a leader, they want someone they can connect to, and relate with. They not only want someone they trust, but someone who trusts them as well.
One of my favorite quotes is by Edward R. Murrow; “Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.” The fastest way to lose respect as a leader is to focus on optics over ethics. If you’re more concerned about political fallout than solving the problem, you have failed as a leader. Even though responsibility for decisions defaults to the leader, responsibility should be a thing of design, not default. It should be readily accepted and not easily denied – this is real leadership.