To Blame or Not To Blame

How often have you heard the maxim fix the problem, not the blame? Management gurus point out that by searching for blame when something goes wrong, you simply incent your staff to avoid taking risks or worse, hide the truth when something goes wrong. Those two outcomes are definitely something to be avoided, but never seeking an understanding of what, or who, caused the problems leads to unintended consequences that could be just as bad.

People can talk about how we have to be “permitted to fail” and how allowing failure allows people to take chances that result in successes that might not have otherwise occurred, but people, your team, wants something else too – accountability. If you don’t believe me, just look at what happened after the financial crisis in 2008. Our government leaders were all very proud of how they “fixed” the problem and avoided a meltdown that might have led to another depression. In doing so, however, they failed to do one thing in many people’s eyes – hold those who caused the problem accountable for their actions.

If you think back to the savings and loan crisis and the junk bond problems of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was a big difference. Yes, a crisis was diverted, but lots of people, hundreds of them, went to jail too. Even the Enron and WorldCom disasters early this century resulted in people being held accountable for their actions; that is, going to jail. The public doesn’t like seeing a lack of accountability. So what happened? If Wall Street wasn’t accountable, then government certainly was for their actions and people are holding them accountable. Oh, maybe not by voting the incumbent out of office, but by showing a complete lack of confidence in government institutions that is unprecedented in the history of this country.

So am I saying we need to get out the pink slips and start firing people when something goes wrong? Well, if that something is lying, stealing or harassment, then yes. However, if that something is not morally corrupt, but fixable, then no one needs to be fired, but someone has to be held accountable. Who is that someone? It is you, their leader. Saying it is your fault for pushing too hard or taking on too big of a risk – that is, taking accountability – is as important as fixing the problem.

Holding yourself accountable is the ultimate practice of servant leadership and allows the team to move forward because they know what needs to change and who will be accountable for making that change happen.

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