The Blame Game

In preparation for her interview on Pittard TV on 19 January, I read Susan Scott’s book Fierce Leadership. I read her other book Fierce Conversations many years ago. Both are excellent books.

To clear up any misunderstanding Susan uses the word “fierce” to indicate conversations that we must have – those conversations that if left unsaid can lead to a deterioration in relationships and a loss of morale and productivity. Fierce in Susan’s context does NOT mean aggressive behaviour.

Accountability is a topic I covered in my post in December 2016. Susan’s thoughts on accountability are worth adding to my post.

Susan says that in many organisations, when leaders say that they are holding people accountable, what they really do is find someone to blame when something goes wrong. In fact, many employees, when they hear “I’m going to hold people accountable” interpret this phrase to mean that someone is going to be made a scapegoat.

Accountability does not have a positive reputation!

The Blame Game is counterproductive. It is poor leadership and creates a culture where people become afraid to tell the boss when something is about to go wrong for fear that the leader will either shoot the messenger, or will go looking for someone to blame, all under the pretence of ‘accountability’.

Susan Scott says that accountability begins with the leader. We must hold ourselves accountable before we can expect the same from our people.

When something goes wrong, leaders must accept responsibility for one or all of these possibilities:

  • They gave the job to the wrong person,
  • They failed to give clear instructions or training,
  • They failed to give the person adequate resources to complete the task,
  • They failed to discuss the importance of the task,
  • They failed to set a realistic deadline for the task’s completion,
  • They overloaded the person with so much work that delivery of this task was nigh on impossible.

The key to accountability lies in the fundamental principle of great leadership: Example. If we are accountable, that is if we do what we say we are going to do, then it is so much easier to expect the same of our people.

The next key is follow-up. If I give an important task to any of my team I put the key stage deadlines into my own diary and on the due date I follow up. A simple question such as “How’s it going?” and “Do you need a hand?” tells your team member that you are serious about this task being done well and on time. The latter question also shows that you are ready to help.

Blame only makes things worse. In an environment where people are truly accountable, you have a leader who holds herself or himself accountable, and it is a SAFE environment where mistakes don’t lead to blame and hissy fits.

If we muck up, we fix up, and we move on toward our goals. A safe, healthy, accountable environment, where the leader leads the way.

Gary Pittard
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