Playing the blame game

It might make you feel better, but it seldom solves the immediate problem

Almost everybody does it. When something goes south, the first instinct is to make it somebody else’s problem, ensure it doesn’t fall on your shoulders and, too many times, pass the buck and distance yourself from the negative issue.

When trouble hits the fan, pointing the finger at others is almost an auto-defense mechanism. In most cases, however, it solves nothing, and might even boomerang back on the deflector, branding him or her as a problem maker, not a solver, and someone not to be counted on in a pinch. Sometimes it’s difficult to suck it up and become part of the solution, particularly when you feel guilty because of association, not commission.

All managers and executives worth their salt make mistakes, but the good ones have learned to recognize when it’s happening before the issue gets out of control. They implement changes on the fly to mitigate the damages and recalibrate, even if it’s not their fault.

When an undertaking is beyond salvage, it takes real self-confidence to completely pull the cord and move forward, fessing up to the miscue. But in every bad situation, some credit is accrued to those who make the hard decisions — even if they are not popular — and take responsibility, rather than try to indict or implicate others.

Management is a team sport and there are always leaders and followers. Some are doers and others are orchestrators, and every organization needs both. To build and lead a strong team takes broad shoulders and the ability to not only direct and control by setting appropriate parameters, but to foster a sense of culpability for the bad and shareability for the good. A leader gets more credit from a team when he or she accepts the ultimate failures, even though the other members almost immediately know who the weak links were that precipitated or contributed to a negative outcome.

When something goes off the rails and trouble surfaces, it’s self-defeating to lay the blame on individual shortfalls, especially in the middle of battle. Instead, a team must pull together, shore up the soft spots, and discover alternative and improved workarounds. If not, it’s almost guaranteed that things will go from bad to worse. Then, everyone loses, and the biggest loser is the organization itself. The hallmark of leadership is the ability to uncover sometimes obscure resolutions, seemingly with uncanny speed when it’s critical, and to not be afraid to take measured risks.

Playing the blame game is an exercise in futility, as well as a zero-sum contest. Doing so only shifts the number, or the fault, from one to the other so the total doesn’t change. In the end, the aggregate score determines if the organization, not the individual players, win or lose. Just like poker, as the legendary Kenny Rogers song proclaims, “you never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table, there’ll be time enough for countin”’ — or in this case blaming — “when the dealin’s done.”

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”