September 19, 2021
The Blame Game

What's the first thing we do as Leaders, when faced with setbacks or disappointments. Determine who or what is to blame? Someone, some individuals, some circumstance? That is the essence of the Blame Game.

When misfortunes like this occur to you, what’s your first thought? Do you immediately figure out who was at fault, other than you? Or you do resign yourself to accepting responsibility for such common mishaps that were under your control?

As Leaders, we are often faced with meeting challenging deliverables or leading especially important initiatives. I recall several instances during which I've assigned specific action items to individuals on my team. Unfortunately, things don't go well, we don't meet our goals, the customer meeting goes very badly, or perhaps we have a catastrophic failure on a key project. 

What's the first thing we do as Leaders, when faced with these circumstances? Perhaps we want to hold someone or something accountable? Who is to blame for what happened? In the process of apportioning blame, we are placing responsibility for something happening on someone, some individuals, some circumstance.

That is the essence of the Blame Game. A situation in which one party blames others for something bad or unfortunate rather than attempting to seek a solution. 

When we find fault with others there is often some element of finger pointing, criticism. Individuals often feel guilty, culpable, even a little beaten down. Blaming others often results in tension, even conflict. I have seen individuals on the receiving end of the blame game, withdraw, disconnect, or disengage. Sometimes we get defensive and make excuses. On the opposite spectrum are individuals who immediately look to deflect, blame others, or criticize, in response to being blamed. 

As Leaders, we know the Blame Game rarely solves any issues or generates useful solutions to problems. Rather, it triggers negative and often unproductive emotions - and yet, our first instinct is often to apportion blame. I came across this interesting piece from Psychology Today - highlighting key reasons why individuals play the Blame Game. 

3 of the Reasons below, resonated with me personally. I am sure you can all think of many more, as you reflect on times when you've been a participant in the Blame Game. 

Blame is an excellent defensive mechanism. Whether you call it projection, denial or displacement, blame helps you preserve your sense of self-esteem by avoiding awareness of your own flaws or failings.

Blame is a tool we use when we are in attack mode. Falling into the category of a destructive conflict resolution method. Blame is a way to try to hurt our coleagues, co-workers, friends & family

It is easier to blame someone else than to accept responsibility. There is less effort involved in recognizing your contributions to a tough situation than in accepting the fact that you're at fault and changing so you don't do it again.

Sometimes, we blame others when we feel bad about something and want to get rid of the bad feeling. So, we project that feeling at others. Blaming others sets them up as bad so we can then project our bad feelings into them. If we can focus on the bad of others, then this takes our mind off the bad feelings within us. Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others.

Deep down we intuitively know that there are no real winners in the Blame Game. As Leaders, one of the most valuable tools we have is Self-Awareness. Learning to identify our "Blame Triggers" is an important aspect of Leadership Development. 

So, what happens when something goes wrong? When we don't accomplish a key goal? When do we fall short of our targets? What do we do when we are expecting something to happen, we're anticipating something going well for us, and things just don't work out? Do we apportion blame to others? to ourselves? to circumstances?  Perhaps we should take a few minutes to pause, reflect dispassionately on what went wrong and what we have learnt.

I'm not suggesting we do not hold others responsible in the face of disappointments or setbacks. I am suggesting that, as Leaders - we should demonstrate accountability, create learning opportunities, and coach our teams through adversity. Often, the deepest and most impactful learning experiences occur during periods when we have major setbacks. 

Have a Great Week ahead. 

Rotimi Olumide

Thought leader, speaker, multifaceted business leader with a successful track record that combines consumer & product marketing, strategic business planning, creative design and product management experience.

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