Have you ever met an executive leader or high-powered entrepreneur who blamed everyone for any and every problem to befall his organization? Unfortunately, at VIM Executive Coaching we have seen many leaders who have this “affliction.” It seems to be getting more of a problem these days, especially as we find that so many individuals in our society are having a problem with empathy.
The Blame Game
Several years ago, a client came to me who was the Vice President of Research & Development for a huge consumer products company with sales that were in the “high, hundreds of millions of dollars.” He was making a tremendous salary, traveled the country (indeed, the world) and had an incredible benefits package including a luxury vehicle. He was fired after being with the company less than two years.
“I still can’t understand what the (blank) happened to me!” he exclaimed. “I did everything right, but I was saddled with an incompetent staff and unresponsive management from the start.”
His opening comments were “suspicious” to me, but I allowed him to keep talking because it is always better to respond rather than react.
“They gave me unrealistic deadlines to complete projects, a bare-bones budget and managers who had no sense of urgency or dedication. I should have fired the lot of them, but there just wasn’t enough time. The managers were whiners and complainers instead of working and producing results.”
The conversation from this executive leader kept on in this manner until I guided him to still his mind a bit. He was fired, we couldn’t repair that, but he had such wonderful credentials I was sure he would get re-employed rather quickly. My goal as an executive coach, was to help him become more effective and a better overall manager.
As I reflected on what he said, it was apparent that in nothing he said, was there “anything of himself.” Now, before I go any further I need to say that at VIM Executive Coaching we never judge. Executives and entrepreneurs are frequently products of the systems in which they were previously employed. For example, an executive whose prior positions were in supportive, responsive and empowering environments, will tend to be that way toward her managers. On the other hand, if the prior positions were reactive and angry and never supportive, we might expect those executives to reflect that culture as well.
In the case of the R&D executive, everything he said was a deflection. Every fault of the organization was the fault of someone or something else, and never his fault. There was no introspection on his part, no sense or ownership, and no attitude of “I must admit, I could have done a better job.”
Now, we also need to say that an overreaction to accepting blame is also a flaw. To say, “I’m sorry, it was all my fault,” to every single problem is also the wrong course to take. It not only conveys weakness but it almost becomes a standard line without any thought or introspection. In itself, this is also a deflection. It is saying, “Yeah, it’s my fault, blah-blah-blah, let me say ‘I’m sorry,’ and let’s get over it and go home.”
In constant deflection, no one is served. Sooner or later someone in the organization, or several people, would view an executive who always uses the blame game, as being angry, reactive and a poor manager. Managers want a leader who is flexible; accept blame when it is appropriate and ask others to be accountable when they have made a mistake.
A manager who blames everyone and is not accountable for her or his mistakes is a liability to any organization. Sooner or later they will fail to grow and will, in turn, fail the organization. Good employees will leave, there will be resentment and problems will increase.
In time, we were able to work with the executive to bring about positive changes. He was more mindful of his role in terms of where his behaviors led him, and he became more comfortable with accepting blame for mistakes he had made. We were pleased that he secured another position and he was able to better praise and appreciate those around him.