Observations with profound merit become clichés for a reason. The observations get overused, and misused, and become…clichés. In the spirit of remembering that the first time a cliché was used people generally nodded their heads in approval, let’s tackle an oldie but goodie: “every time you point your finger at someone four fingers are pointing back at you.” If you spout that cliché today, you’ll get eye rolls. But this cliché speaks to a pillar of leadership that to me, feels lost in many organizations today: personal accountability.
Justifying bad behavior by blaming it on a circumstance or individual seems to be a popular, and sadly effective, way of escaping personal accountability today. It’s not your fault you treat people poorly because you were treated poorly by your parents growing up. You’ll fire that employee based on inaccurate or manipulated facts because it’s best for the organization. You’ll lie about that policy your putting into law because overall, it’s for the good of the people, even if they don’t quite know it yet. You’ll manipulate or misrepresent evidence because if that person isn’t fully guilty of this crime he’s surely guilty of many others. You were confused, overwhelmed, sad, angry. It wasn’t your fault! It was THEIR fault! Make no mistake, it is a slippery slope.
It is no one’s fault you are acting the way you are except yours. You are likely correct that there are many challenging circumstances or bad people surrounding your decision to blame someone else for your behavior. Too bad. When it comes to accountability the ends don’t justify the means. If you allow yourself this leeway you will allow the people you lead this leeway. Thus, begins the rot inside your team or organization.
So, let’s go back to our cliché. You point the finger and blame someone else for your poor behavior. Think of the four fingers pointing back at you the four ways you could have handled the situation with professionalism and honor. It’s much harder to do it this way, but this is the way leaders do it. Finger pointing is the path of least resistance when it comes to accountability, and true leaders don’t take the path of least resistance, especially when it comes to accountability.
Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of teaching leadership and helping individuals and businesses improve exponentially. Errol provides executive coaching and leadership training to individuals and teams across the United States.
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