Maybe it’s the nature of politics. Maybe it’s just part of human nature. Either way, it seems that the public rhetoric of our day is dominated by blame. Nothing is “my responsibility.” Blame-throwing has become a cultural pandemic.
It’s time to interrupt the pandemic of blame-centric leadership.
True leaders make heroes of others. They are liberal with substantive praise. They inspire confidence because they don’t steal credit and don’t dodge personal responsibility. True leaders spend their energy empowering people and focusing on solutions.
So, let’s talk about a healthy alternative to this blame game. A way of leadership that breathes life and health. It’s not original with me, but comes from the work of Jim Collins.
The Window and The Mirror
Twenty years ago, when Good to Great was released, it took the leadership world by storm. Everyone talked about it. Today, that ubiquitous red book sits on shelves gathering dust. And, unfortunately, some of his best insights are lost under that layer of dust. “The window and the mirror” is one of those enduring insights. An insight we need today.
Truly healthy leaders—what Collins called, “Level 5 Leadership,”—practice the two-pronged habit of looking out the window for someone to credit when things go well and looking in the mirror to take personal responsibility when things don’t.
In his own words:
“Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror to take responsibility and blame themselves. [Others] do just the opposite. They look in the mirror to take credit for success, but out the window to assign blame for disappointing results.” (Good to Great, p.39)
A Simple Place to Start
Like all game-changing principles, just knowing this doesn’t change anything. Acting on it is where the power lies. Ultimately, I challenge you to make this a habit, your new normal. But, today, let’s focus on a simple first step.
Add a “Window and the Mirror” assignment to your weekly review/planning process.
Whether you review and plan next week’s workflow at the end of the week (Friday) or the start of a new week (Monday,) include a few minutes to answer and act on these two questions:
Window: What is one thing that’s going well right now and who can I honor for their contribution toward that progress? (Action: Give them a call, write them a note, give them public credit, highlight their work.)
Mirror: What is one thing that’s not going well and how am I a contributor to that? (Action: Who else in our organization feels that frustration most acutely? Take a few minutes to connect with them, empathize, share your personal response and plans.)
Can you imagine the cumulative power of affirming people every single week by giving them credit for the progress and success you are experiencing? Can you imagine the culture of safety and ownership that could grow out of people seeing you consistently take responsibility for your part of what isn’t going well?
Blame-throwing is leadership slight-of-hand. It isn’t leadership at all, but rather, an attempt to avoid responsibility. It creates a toxic environment.
Meanwhile, making “the window and the mirror” a personal habit is all about leadership responsibility. It will transform the culture of your organization, your business, even your family.
Today: Who is one person who deserves a shout out?