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Tuesday, 04 March 2014 20:25

Selfishly taking the blame

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In this blog I will explain why you should take the blame for things that go wrong that were your fault - even if only partially your fault. The most common argument for taking the blame is an ethical argument. The basis of that ethical argument uses principles such as we should tell the truth and not risk that others take the blame for our shortcomings. Whilst I support this ethical argument I am going to ignore it for the time being. What I want to build on is the selfish argument for taking the blame.


Let’s start with an example. A real life example. There is someone I know, who whenever something goes wrong looks for someone else to blame. He always looks for reasons why things have gone wrong and by reason I basically mean someone or something to blame. This in itself is not so interesting or unusual. There are plenty of people who hate taking the blame. We might regard such people as childish and irritating, but they are out there. Think of the “Teflon manager” to whom nothing sticks. We have all come across them.

What’s more interesting about this person is not just that he blames others, but when he apportions blame it is not a political exercise – it’s a heartfelt belief. An extreme example of this is when driving his car too fast he ran into a roundabout. Whose fault was that? Why the roundabout’s of course. 

Let’s think of someone else I know. She is someone who whenever something goes wrong feels a deep personal sense of ownership for the problem or whatever has happened. If something has gone wrong and she was involved in it, then by default she sees herself as owning the problem. 

It might be thought that my first acquaintance was happier and more successful. After all he never gets anything wrong, his conscience is clear and he moves on effortlessly. But in reality my second acquaintance is happier and more successful. This lies at the heart of my selfish argument for taking the blame.

My first acquaintance is constantly busy trying to prove he is right. This is an endless task and, in reality, no one cares. My second acquaintance just accepts things will go wrong, shoulders responsibility and gets on with sorting out the problem. In sorting out the problem she is constantly learning new skills and ideas. She rarely faces the same problem again – and if she does has developed the skills to deal with them. 

Ask yourself a question. When do we learn most? In our first few years of life. We do not learn then by not making mistakes, but precisely by experimenting and making mistake after mistake. There is a very close link between the attitude with which we approach the problems we make and face in life and our ability to move on and overcome them.

I do not want to sound naïve. The real world is complicated and political. Balance is needed. No one is going to thank you for regularly making the same mistakes. We are never comfortable with the person who is continually apologising for making problems. There are times we need to let or help others take the blame so they can learn. If something really serious has gone wrong, we can’t just let people get away with it time and again. But generally, we should all worry less about making mistakes, creating faults and causing problems and worry more about sorting them out, learning and moving on. It's all about attitude.

If you do this you’ll find you achieve more and are respected more. You’ll discover greater satisfaction in the things you achieve as you will know you have really achieved them. You’ll learn, and because you have learned you will have fewer problems in the future. You won’t waste time pointlessly reflecting on who was “really” to blame.

Don’t be fooled by the siren image of the effortlessly problem free person. Stand up and take the blame!

Read 45962 times Last modified on Saturday, 15 March 2014 08:55
Richard Newton

Richard Newton wears many hats. Included amongst these are his work as a consultant, author, blogger, change leader, company director, and program manager. His most well known project management book is The Project Manager: Mastering the Art of Delivery. He is also the author of the best-selling Dream It, Do It, Live It which applies project management principles to achieving personal dreams.

His articles and blogs can be followed at www.changinghats.com. Information about his company can be found at www.enixus.co.uk. His books are available at bookshops and online sellers worldwide.

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