I love blaming others. And I know I’m not alone in this.
It’s easy to complain, or gossip with co-workers (who share my point of view of course), about the messes and mistakes that have been made. Such diatribes stoke my indignation and reassure me that someone else, someone with more power, is at fault. After all, I’m not the ultimate boss.
That’s the funny thing about hierarchy and power. There’s always someone with more—someone to whom you have to bend or cave, please, appease or play politics. This powerful other comes with many names, depending on the context—your boss, the shareholders, the media, your mother, partner, family or community, even God.
Reminds me of the joke about an old Jewish couple who decide to divorce, after seventy years of marriage.
“Why now, after all these years?” someone asks. “Well,” the man replies in a heavy Yiddish drawl, “We were waiting for the children to die.”
My client is on the leadership team of an innovative tech start-up. For the last several years she has been working under a charismatic and visionary leader with whom she often disagrees—in silence. In order to please her boss, she goes along with decisions, even when she isn’t fully on board. She notices signals of dissent among her team: low morale, lack of buy-in, key players abandoning ship.
Her team’s project may ultimately fail. Its fate is still unknown. But the bottom line—both financial and emotional has taken a hit.
Oh… she so wants to blame.
Kevin Sharer, former CEO of Amgen describes the illuminating moment he realized his own culpability in the failures of his team and the company he served. Sharer is clear to reassure us that his stroke of insight “was not an exercise in self-loathing or defeatism; it was an authentic, honest and complete analysis of how I had failed to do my part.”
Until our conversation, my client hadn’t seen her part: she was choosing not to speak. With this small epiphany, she puts her focus inward and wins on multiple accounts.
- She is a learner. She learns about her fears: of speaking out, of saying no, of risking rejection, in short, of leading.
- She is a grower. She develops new skills. She finds within herself the strength and fortitude to move ahead with her dreams, even in the face of red flags and fierce challenge.
- She is empowered. She takes internal ownership of the powerful other, the part of herself who wants to, and has potential to lead.
- She has better relationships all around. Relieved of the stress and burden of blaming, she likes people more.
There’s a world of difference between self-battering and taking responsibility. Discerning this difference should encourage us to do the latter, not just in service of our families, teams and communities, but also as a way of respecting ourselves.
And honestly, I really don’t enjoy blaming others. It leaves me empty, at the mercy of the other, whoever that may be.