This is the second post on “What Not To Do And How Not To Do It” about six of the biggest leadership mistakes and how to stop making them. Today we’re going to talk about Excuses—why the excuse-making habit is so destructive and what can be done to overcome this.
Making excuses is one of the most dangerous and negative leadership behaviors, and it takes many forms, but it’s chiefly about not accepting responsibility. It can show up as indecision, which is basically an excuse for not acting. It can include buck passing, “It’s not my problem, it’s his problem.” Procrastination is a way of making excuses by essentially not accepting responsibility or postponing accepting responsibility. Finally, there’s not committing, which is another form of indecision or procrastination.
People who won’t accept responsibility for their behavior, when it’s clearly their behavior that’s the problem, are inherently untrustworthy. We understand this at a level that’s both conscious and subconscious. It’s all about self-preservation.
Any of these forms of making excuses can be lethal to the leader and to their ability to generate followership from their teams. Anything that causes the followers to question whether they trust the leader is destructive, and we want to eliminate it.
How to Fix Excuses
- Always accept responsibility Sometimes the most important thing is to be aware of how damaging making excuses can be. By accepting responsibility, the trust you naturally receive far outweighs any negative aspects that you think you’re avoiding by not accepting responsibility. Own up, and do it right away.
- Solutions, not problems Instead of bringing my boss my problems, the more responsible approach would be to come with solutions to the problem. My experience is that it’s always better to bring solutions, even B-minus solutions—not bringing anything but problems implies a kind of intellectual laziness. It’s like saying, “Sorry, dog ate my homework.” Bringing solutions shows a professional maturity that builds trust rather than erodes trust.
- Credit your team for successes, but failure is all yours This just goes with being a leader. It may be that your team contributed to the failure, but as the team lead, the owner of the business, or head of the division, you are ultimately responsible for the failure of the team. However, you must always share credit for success.
- Mistakes are not usually fatal, but defending mistakes can be pretty damaging. Defending mistakes is one of those things that really triggers the fight or flight part of our brain. It tells the person you’re making excuses to that you can’t be trusted or can’t accept the reality of a situation. It implies someone who is not mature enough to handle responsibility.
If you find that you’re an excuse maker, waste no time in fixing that problem. And come back next week for our discussion on Bad Manners. (Yes, bad manners.)