One of the most transformational moments in my FBI career happened in a hallway with dim lights that made the muddy government brown carpet look like beach silt. My squad had just met with the Special Agent in Charge (SAC), who had gone around the table and asked each agent for a briefing on their most important cases. When it came my turn, I gave the SAC my update.
He asked me why I hadn’t been more aggressive, I promptly told him that the Assistant Special Agent in Charge had denied my request to move forward in the investigation and blamed it all on him.
After the meeting adjourned, one of my fellow FBI agents caught me in the hallway and said, “You know what you’ve done, don’t you?” When I shook my head, he continued, “You’ve just dimed out the ASAC. You need to go tell him what you’ve done so he doesn’t hear it first from the SAC.”
I took my fellow agent’s advice seriously because he was a man of integrity and good judgment. I saw the wisdom of what he said, and although I was not looking forward to it, I walked into the ASAC’s office and explained exactly what I had done. I apologized and told him I didn’t want him to be caught flat footed when his supervisor queried him about it.
The ASAC was gracious and accepted my apology. I also think he admired the fact that I was willing to take responsibility for the cowardly way I had chosen to respond when under pressure in the squad meeting.
Blaming others is never a good way to do business. It’s dishonest, shows poor character, and destroys relationships. Blaming others is something we did as children; sadly, many of us have never outgrown our desire to escape punishment from parents and teachers.
People in leadership are finger pointing all the time. What do we hear from our politicians in Washington D.C.?
“. . . It’s not my responsibility,”
followed closely with
“. . . It’s not my fault,”
“. . . Someone else needs to do it. The Republicans need to do this, the Democrats need to do that . . . someone, but not me.”
So the question is, what is at the bottom of our desire to blame others instead of taking responsibility ourselves? The answer is this: a fragile ego that will go to great lengths to preserve our own self-esteem and self-image.
- Fragile egos produce leaders who are weak because they don’t want to learn anything new about themselves (click to tweet). If they do, it is an admission that they’re not perfect, which means they are still a work in progress.
- Fragile egos feel they give up control if they concede they need to improve (click to tweet).
- Fragile egos lack the confidence to admit they still need to improve themselves (click to tweet).
If we spend our time blaming others, we have no time to look at ourselves. Blaming others prevents us from learning about ourselves. When something isn’t our fault, there’s no reason to do anything differently. Which means we will inevitably make the same mistake in the future. And that will lead to more blame . . .
Psychologists believe that people with fragile egos were rewarded for their achievements as children rather than asked how they felt about things that happened in their day. Performance and image were all that mattered; only winners were worthy of love. They learned to impress people and one of the most efficient ways of doing this is by performing to get the attention of others. Performance can take many forms. I know this is certainly true of myself—on a large cattle ranch, I often found myself performing so I could compete with sick cows and wild horses for the attention of my busy parents.
As leaders with fragile egos, however, we also perform. We blame others if our performance is bad and lacking in good judgment.
Here are some ways you can learn more about yourself so you can stop blaming others for your own performance:
- Notice when you hear yourself becoming self-promoting, putting a spin on your accomplishments, or adjusting your manner to enhance the impression you hope to make.
- Learn to recognize when you’re doing them as a performance for others.
- Resist the temptation to blame others because your performance is not perfect.
- Become aware so you can make choices to control your behavior.
- Choose to take the blame for something so you can get used to how it feels. You might be surprised by the positive responses you get from others, and find that once you provide the example of “ownership,” they will do the same.
Taking the blame means we have the personal strength to accept failure in ourselves. As I mention in my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, when we stop blaming others we can start learning from our mistakes and succeed another day.
What do you feel is at the bottom of your tendency to blame others instead of taking responsibility yourself? How do you deal with the fear or anxiety that comes up when you compare yourself with others? How have you handled or reframed your own failures?
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