Successful leaders take accountability for their actions.  They don’t play the blame game.  But if you have lived and operated in corporate life at all, you know the blame game is alive and well in most organizations.  This starts from the top down.  As the leader of a great organization, you should fight the blame game at every level.

A Corporate Fable

Don’t be like the CEO in this well known corporate fable.  The new CEO found three envelopes in his desk drawer left by his predecessor.  A note attached to them told him to open one in case of emergency – a business crisis, a bad report, a fire to fight with the public, customers or the board of directors.  A few months after he was on the job they had a crisis.  It was his first of the sort since taking the job, and he remembered the three envelopes.  He went to his desk and opened the first envelope.  On a piece of paper in the envelope were two words:

  • Blame Me

So that’s what he did.  He went to the press and explained that the problem was fallout from decisions made by his predecessor.  He had put measures in place to counteract the problem, but there was little he could do to avoid the problem.

Many months later another crisis ensued.   Public panic struck as to whether the organization could survive this latest crisis.  The CEO sought a good answer, but could not come up with a good way to solve the problem and save face with the public.  Then he remembered the envelopes.  He went back to his office and opened up envelope number 2:

  • Blame the board

Using this excuse, he calmly explained how the problem was caused by actions put in place directly with the approval and direction from the board.  And while he did not approve of all of the actions, he served at the pleasure of the board and would work with them and the company to resolve the situation.

That sufficed for a while.  But it wasn’t long before another crisis arose.  Such is the life in modern corporate America, or life in general.  He went straight for his desk drawer and pulled out the third envelope.  It simply read:

  • Prepare three envelopes

That was it.  No more excuses.  He was looking for tactic (excuse) number 3.  But it was not to be.  This time, he would have to live up to his responsibility and take accountability for his actions and the actions of the company.

The Blame Game

Why is this so typical in leadership today?  I have sat in many leadership meetings where people were looking to “spin” a story so to look better.  I especially would see this in relation to customers.  Blaming third-party providers, equipment manufacturers or the nebulous “software” that was the root cause.

Why do we do this?  At a previous employer, we had a saying that we wanted results, not stories.  Stories are just a nice word for “excuses”.  We didn’t want to hear excuses.  When a leader reported status, we wanted to hear results.  If the results were not where they were supposed to be, we did not want to hear stories (excuses), we wanted to hear the plan to deliver the results desired.

Don’t be the victim

Last year I wrote a blog entitled “I Am Responsible For Every Bad Decision I Have Ever Made“.  In it, I share the concept of “victor/victim”.  This concept is adapted from the book the “Oz Principle“.   In it, we learn that the four steps to accountability are:

  1. See it
  2. Own it
  3. Solve it
  4. Do it

Attacking accountability in this way builds accountability at the individual and organization level.  It’s critical to nip self-victimization in the bud.  The only way to build accountability is to not let the blame game take root in your organization.

Be Accountable – it starts with “I”

One of my favorite podcasters is Carey Neuhoff.  He often says “People admire your strengths, but they resonate with your weaknesses”.  This is the essence of authenticity.  How does accountability start with “I”.  Practice some of these sayings:

  • I made a mistake
  • I don’t know the answer
  • Or, I could use your help

Practicing “I” statements can be the first step of accountability.  (Notice that none of these are self-absorbed “I” statements, like “I am perfect” or “I am the boss”).   These types of “I” statements are admissions that you are responsible for, but you also don’t have all the answers.  It’s the first step to stop the blame game.

Start Today

Do you want to hold yourself accountable?  Are you in a culture where that seems impossible?  How can you start this process?  How can you eliminate the blame game?

If you are the top of the organization, then it is much easier.  You simply start by modeling the right behavior, and then you hold your team accountable.  Develop accountability processes that can filter through the organization.   But it’s critical that it be accepted and endorsed by every leader in your organization.  As a business coach, I work with organizations to develop these processes.  It takes time, but an organization’s culture can evolve and become one of accountability over time.

If you are in the organization but not at the top, then it is harder to impact the entire organization.  But what you can do is begin to impact your area of the organization.  Implement these strategies with the team you lead.  Practice high emotional intelligence in how you work with others.  And, drive the cultural changes from within.  One thing we know is that teams that are lead by high EQ leaders are much more productive and have a positive impact on those around them.  If you take this tactic, you will begin to impact your organization from within.  Your team will be noticed.  You will be noticed.  Additionally, you will slowly develop an organization that practices accountability at every level.

If you would like to learn more about how to do this, contact me today at