Thought for the Week: Being Powerless is Often a Choice

“Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.” George Washington Carver

I just had the great pleasure of writing an article along with Dr. Cathy Bush titled, “It’s Not My Fault: Attribution Theory and the Tendency to Blame.” We were prompted to write this as part of our Leadership class at the DeVos Graduate School of Management to address the issue of leadership accountability. Once a difficulty is defined as external, it follows that there is nothing that can be done about it except to suffer the consequences.

Avoiding accountability will not make the problem go away This is not just a classroom experience as a great deal of research shows our tendency to avoid accountability for the bad stuff and claim credit for the good. If you look at the politicians who were recently involved in dealing with the U.S. debt ceiling (or with not dealing with it), you will find that all parties and all sides consistently attributed the difficulties of coming to an agreement to external forces…namely those with whom they were debating or those who made certain decisions in the past. Not a single account did I read where an individual involved in the process took personal responsibility for any of the problem, yet almost all of them stated strongly that they were a part of the solution. I fear that this will not get any better as the “super committee” continues its work.

It is naïve to believe that we are in one-hundred percent control of all of our circumstances at all times.  Of course there are times where things happen that have nothing to do with us yet we have to deal with it, sometimes even being accountable for the results. Nonetheless, leaders don’t make excuses. They look at the situation, determine what part of the problem they can influence, take ownership for that part and move on.   

Strong leaders act in-spite of external forces. And they push others to do the same. Allowing your employees or followers to attribute all of their problems to forces outside of themselves will not only fail to help those employees, but will contribute to the formation of a “victim” culture. Help people identify what part they can play in the situation and then give them the tools and the freedom to play that part.  The best way to encourage your employees to take accountability is to ensure that you are doing so yourself.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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