Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Archive for May, 2013

Leaders have the power to create or eliminate a culture that supports blame.

If an error is discovered, or some process, client service, or meeting doesn’t go well at work, it’s natural for anyone near the epicenter of the glitch to immediately proclaim that it wasn’t his/her fault. When finger-pointing is an acceptable practice, innovation, personal initiative, and growth can easily be stifled.

In my experience, blaming is supported in environments where errors are treated as failures instead of opportunities to learn and work towards future success. In these situations, employees who make mistakes are often treated with a punitive attitude or consequence.

If you’re a leader, here are a couple of immediate strategies you can apply to minimize and eventually eliminate a culture that enables blaming:

– Instead of using language or an approach that basically says, “Who is responsible for this?,” say: “Let’s talk about how we can avoid this happening in the future.” Then give people an organized opportunity to come up with solution-oriented recommendations for damage control, if necessary, and/or doing it differently the next time.

– While addressing the problem, state that regardless of who was involved in the error, you trust that the intent was to produce a quality product, process, or service. (It’s important that you’re genuine with this statement. If you’re unable to be genuine about this, you have more complex issues to tend to.)

Blaming others creates obstacles to continuous improvement and effective change management. Whether you lead a small team, a department, or an organization, if blaming is an issue in your environment and you genuinely want that to change, applying these two strategies is a great start.

Mistakes happen—moving on is intentional.

I share this story in the spirit of getting real. We can pretend to have it all together all the time, but we all know that no one has it all together, all the time. Here’s a personal example.

I’ve been facilitating small and large groups for over 25 years, and a couple of weeks ago, I managed to flub up an afternoon session that I was facilitating for 75 professionals. Thankfully, our morning session went well. Instead of boring you with the details of the afternoon session I’ll just say that my own miscommunication caused the exclusion of planned content and flow, and diminished the quality and length of the program. I basically lost control of the agenda and once it was lost, based on the size of the audience, I simply needed to wrap the program up as best I could. This has never happened to me before. I certainly can recall circumstances over the years where I haven’t been at my best, but frankly, this was a doozy. And the experience was, and still is, humbling.

Following the program I promptly acknowledged and took ownership of the mishap. My clients were gracious about it, but I found that I was less than gracious with myself that evening, as I beat myself up and had significant regret about the level of service I provided to my audience and my clients. From a more selfish business perspective I was also concerned about participant feedback in the marketplace—something I’m not used to being concerned about.

By the end of that night, I knew it was crucial to shift my thinking. The day was done. I recognized that I couldn’t go back and redo it, and that I had little or no control over the outcomes of the events of the day. I realized that in order to best serve my future audiences and clients well, I would choose to learn from this experience, move on, remember and take pride in my successes, rebuild my confidence and continue to maintain the standards I serve by.

This forward thinking, personal reflection, and self-talk helped me a lot. Writing this entry helps too. If you find yourself dwelling on self-blame—or blaming another—for mistakes made, I hope they help you.