An Introduction to Blame

by Kyle Hickman

Two weeks from now, it will mark the one-year anniversary of my arrival to Texas A&M University-Commerce as a graduate student/assistant. I have learned many important lessons during that time, but one lesson has reared its head over and over again. See below.
Consider these scenarios:
Scenario A: You are part of a committee or class project. As is atypical of most projects, someone has to be in charge of overseeing the operations of the group and/or managing individual members of the team. In this case, that person is you. As you communicate with each member about their roles, you come to an agreement on their responsibilities.
…a week later, you meet with the committee/group/team to discuss the progress of the goals that were set previously. As it turns out, several of the team members did not fulfill their responsibilities to the rest of the group. How do you react?
Scenario B: You run a training program for new employees. After an extensive three month training regiment, you send your employees out to work with clients. Unfortunately, during a visit to that first client, one of your employees commits a serious error, negatively affecting your business relationship with that customer.
…upon this employee’s return to the office, you setup a meeting to discuss the incident. How do you handle the situation?

In both of those scenarios, the person in question had a direct impact on the performance of the other person. When a mistake occurs, our first instinct is to blame the other person, whether it is their fault or not. For example, if a significant other is unsuccessful in distinguishing our point of view, we automatically lay the blame on that individual for not seeing things our way. When others do not follow our directions, we tend to view ourselves as infallible and assume very little blame ourselves. Yet, in many cases, we fail to: 1) communicate properly and/or 2) prepare others for success. 

The “Switch” of Effective Leadership

In the process of reading, teaching, and learning more about effective leadership as a graduate student, I have learned to fully adopt this notion of avoiding the blaming of others. Whether it is an individual problem or a group issue, mature leaders are careful not to blame others before fully examining a problem in detail. I call this process of leadership development the “Switch” for one simple reason: instead of pointing the finger at someone else, we have to learn to turn that finger around… a 180 degree difference. When things do not go as expected, despite our initial inclination to blame others for the problem, we must ask ourselves these questions:
  • How can we tackle this issue in a constructive manner?
  • What could I have done better to communicate my intentions?
  • Could I have done more to prepare others to be successful?

Let me clarify: I do not want to make any excuses for other people. Others should absolutely take responsibility for their own actions. However, there are plenty of times when we could have done more and said more, making expectations much clearer. Therefore, let’s just be careful about laying blame on others when the blame may in fact reside with us.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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