Avoiding the blame game

I just received this wonderful newsletter from my dear friend Kenn Butler. Very timely given issues I am consulting on currently. Why is it that people feel more comfortable apportioning  blame than they do taking responsibility for improving the status quo?  Read on!

The Blame Game

The problem with blame is it means the mind is focusing on finding a fall guy rather than a solution. A culture of blame indicates a fundamental problem with leadership. Autocratic leaders often resort to blaming others when things go wrong, rather than taking responsibility for all which happens. Distrust & fear are cultivated, & people blame each other to avoid being reprimanded or put down. The result is no new ideas are ever bought forward & no personal initiatives are taken because people do not risk being wrong &/or being fired.

In such an environment the pace of change & improvement slows down & the organisation ceases to offer anything new. Of further concern, is problems are never really addressed or solved. CYA (cover your backside) is standard business procedure – nobody can be sure when they may need cover, so it is only sensible to take every opportunity to CYA. Harvard Business Review writers have suggested at least half the problem in leadership is top performers are promoted into management roles, put through a few workshops & seminars, given a book on ‘leadership for beginners’, & then thrown to the staff. No wonder they are worried & embracing the concept of CYA.

New Zealand’s fixation on leadership is apparent every time something goes wrong. ‘Lack of leadership’ is cited by those around the problem & blame is dissipated or passed on. The results are an indication New Zealand leaders are struggling to handle the challenges organisations are facing in the increasingly uncertain business environment. Effective leaders actually require deep knowledge of the industry, organisation, people & work they do.

The opposite of a blame culture is a problem solving culture in which people feel able to offer ideas, highlight issues & put suggestions forward. When something goes wrong, the question is: How did this happen & what can we do about it?”  A mistake is identified & improvements are made. Sir Ralph Norris for instance, believes complaints are more useful than compliments as they provide a focus for improvements.

People view a leadership enriched organisation as an extension of themselves; they feel good about what they can achieve personally & work in cooperation with others as they do not feel threatened in terms of employment. Individual goals are aligned with those of the organisation & people will do what it takes to make things happen. The organisation operates as a family, providing personal fulfillment which often transcends ego. In this culture, leaders do not develop followers, but rather other leaders.

Moving from a blame culture to one where leadership enriches the organisation often requires a change in CEO – either physically or mentally. Mistakes must be viewed as learning opportunities. Of equal importance is innovation must be encouraged & rewarded. When successful, the idea must be implemented immediately. Leadership means taking personal responsibility & knowing the buck cannot be passed on. It involves understanding the environment & the people in the organisation.

Ultimately it means making a difference to people’s lives. It is the greatest responsibility of all; it is also one which real leaders are prepared to accept.



[1] Adapted from an article by Jacqueline Rowarth, Director Massey Agriculture – j.s.rowarth@massey.ac.nz @ Massey University & printed in the National Business Review February 24th 2012


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