Owning failures and avoiding blame games

Wednesday March 7 2018

Ms Terry  Ramadhani is a senior manager in the

Ms Terry  Ramadhani is a senior manager in the Human Resources Department, East Africa Aga Khan University 

By Terry Ramadhani

On numerous occasions in various institutions, I have heard comments like “I have got to protect my back”. Every time I hear the statement, I get taken aback, I never get used to it! Worse still, many times we catch people lying about incidences in an effort to shift the blame to someone else.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much effort goes into blame games. Often times, actually all too often, this behaviour is displayed by senior members of staff who truly have no need to point fingers but somehow are focused on making themselves look good and cast everybody around them as non-contributors.

In cases where some action ought to have been taken and wasn’t, we hear voices deferring to other leaders, “I have tried to solve the problem but my boss won’t let me”, or “the leadership stopped us from doing the amazing things we had planned” etc.

I regularly find myself bemused at how in many of our households there exists a character called “I don’t know” who seems to be notoriously guilty of all the misdemeanors around the house, be it breaking a favourite mug or blowing up the electric kettle or iron etc.

The extent to which as humans we seek self preservation is clear in most all scenarios where responsibility and accountability is demanded. How is it we fail to recognize our own roles and contributions to the failures or lack of results that we end up delegating and insourcing to others?

The reality is, though shifting the blame strategy may get one out of a hot spot in a particular scenario, it is not a sustainable strategy for progressive career nor institutional growth.

It brings with it negative feelings of anger and resentment in those that receive the blame and over time it also seriously dents the credibility of colleagues who constantly shift blame from themselves, not to mention the irrecoverable damage it does to teams’ abilities to deliver as one. I am certain at some point in our career path we have all been on the receiving end of unfair and undeserved blame.

How then can we cultivate traits that can help us in our workplaces or in our homes to step up and own the mistakes or failures more and desist at all costs from passing the buck and throwing others under the bus?

Here are a few suggestions that have helped me in these types of situations:

1. Own your mistakes – no human being is infallible. We make countless mistakes over and over! When things don’t go as they should the surest way of getting past the event is to own up.

2. Cultivate a sense of humility – a great and helpful attitude to possess is one that acknowledges no end to learning. We are all both students and masters. When we find ourselves in the student shoes, we must accept to learn from the master in the particular area. This could be in skills that we don’t even regularly think about, like being compassionate to another’s struggle, or being helpful even in situations where you don’t stand to gain.

3. Adopt the mentality of viewing every mistake as an excellent opportunity to learn. Some mistakes are more costly than others, but in every one of them if we look close enough, we find many lessons.

4. Cultivate a responsible attitude. This means adopting behaviours that demonstrate the understanding that you are the person who must make it happen. A deep-seated belief that you are responsible for the desired outcomes helps to minimize the need to delegate responsibility in execution and blame in failure.

5. Sharpen your tools. A major driver of a blaming culture is the lack of confidence one may feel in a certain situation. This deficiency perspective is driven by gaps in competencies and abilities to deliver. Shifting the blame moves the spotlight away from those gaps to someone else’s shortcomings.

6. Surround yourself with people who call you out when you least want to hear it but need it the most.

No matter how hard we try to ignore the discomfort that cognitive dissonance brings when we do what we shouldn’t, that little voice inside must be allowed to counsel us back to the right path. It is critical that we keep in mind as Thomas Carlyle said, “the greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none!”