No Excuses = Real Leadership

No Excuses Real Leadership

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.


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    Michelle McArthur-Mo

    October 22, 2012 at 10:57 am

    My sentiments exactly, excuses or as we “British” prefer reasons are not acceptable in a leader. As a leader I accept total responsibility for my actions and my performance and for my team. I also expect all team members to accept responsibility for their actions and performance. As a leader I have a responsibility to the team to enable them to perform and to develop the leaders from within providing a secure base for team members to use their talents to push out the boundaries, innovate, and remain focused upon our customers.

      Mike Myatt

      October 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks Michelle – your outlook on leadership focuses on the correct elements.

        Ramani N Iyer

        October 24, 2012 at 12:58 am

        Terrfice Post Mike, I competely agree as a leader one should never exhibit excuse nor aceept excuse. Excuse has no place in our Life.
        It is better to travel well than to arrive.”-Gautama Buddha

    Lisa Rae Preston

    October 22, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Transparency and accountability are key – wonderful reminders, Mike!

    I find responsibility in leadership to be a constant dance between holding myself accountable to keep moving forward along with balancing that out with times of oasis/refreshment/nurturing so I can get back in the saddle, renewed with energy to invest.

    You have me thinking here of what excuse-free living looks like in the real world, in a variety of situations. Thanks for the insights!

    Tina Crouse

    October 25, 2012 at 8:31 am

    In reading this, I felt that you flip-flopped on what you were presenting. Leaders who refuse to accept the reasons why things fail call them ‘excuses’ and bully and demean people for their imperfections. Accepting responsibility for your team would be the opposite of naming excuses. Also I find the attitude of ‘never make excuses’ dehumanizing and old school. I too believe leadership comes from looking at the failures and the failings and improving on them but you must first name them. And pretending to take responsibility (I/My team failed to complete this) is not the same as reviewing who/what/where and when did WE miss something.
    Life happens; our response to life defines us as human beings and leaders. Performance as the only ‘measure of the man’ is over-rated.

      Mike Myatt

      October 25, 2012 at 10:29 am

      Hi Tina:

      While I appreciate your thoughts, I find them to be a bit off the mark. A “reason” is a statement of reality offered in earnest and good faith. An “excuse” is a substitute offered in the absence of a reason to deflect, conceal, rationalize, justify, or blame – the two should not be confused. To make the leap because one doesn’t accept an excuse they would therefore demean and bully others is quite a stretch as well. There are many who don’t accept excuses, but care enough to use the presenting of one as a teaching moment or development opportunity. Performance is clearly not the only measure, but it is certainly an important one. Even more to the point, when a lack of performance exists, whether one offers reasons or excuses is a window into the character of a person which astute leaders pay close attention to. Thanks for sharing Tina.

    Stephen Jeffers

    October 25, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Nice post Mike. We have a quote up in our locker room that I find relevant that says, “Don’t make excuses, make plays.” People often worry about the problem at hand and focus on the negatives instead of the positives. Also, loved the John Wooden quote. Thank you for sharing.


    November 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks for the article Mike!

    As for John Wooden’s quote, I believe it is:
    “Never make excuses. Your friends [don’t need] them and your
    foes won’t believe them.”

    Mike Myatt

    November 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks Devan.

    Chapp Jonathan

    November 14, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Thanks Mike. To me, John Wooden simply means that excuses are out dated.

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