I’m a firm believer that the key to success is to focus on what you can control and to let go of what you can’t. Sounds obvious, but every day most of us will be faced with examples where this rules goes out of the window and instead the ugly face of blame rears its head. Statements such as, “I wanted to go for a run today, but the weather is just awful,” or, “It was important that I met the deadline and didn’t leave it to the last minute, but my workload has just been a nightmare,” or, “I really wanted to let my team lead the project, but in the end it was too important to risk it,” may sound familiar! In one way or another, each of these statements are examples of relinquishing accountability and instead apportioning blame to someone (or something) else.
The problem with the playing the blame game
The blame game is problematic for a variety of reasons. Fundamentality it diverts our attention away from exploring effective solutions to the challenge and therefore enables us to continue in the pursuit of our goal. Often we engage in blame behaviours as these are the easiest path of least resistance, even if this means that we are ultimately harming ourselves by not creating the best opportunity to achieve what we set out to. For example:
In the case of awful weather impacting our exercise plans – rain provides the perfect excuse for the short-term-win of a day off, telling yourself you can start again when the weather improves, even though we may realize deep down that to achieve our health goals we must persist even in the face of inclement weather (which in the UK is unfortunately more often than not!).
Meeting that deadline was an important goal and you didn’t want to end up rushing at the last minute again. However, it was easier to put off starting the task until closer to the deadline when it seemed so far away…
Finally, the amount of effort required to ensure that, as a leader, you effectively adopt the right behaviours to ensure you can relinquish control of that project to your team and still be certain that it will be a success may be just too much given the other challenges you are currently facing – it is easier to just do it yourself.
The solution to the blame game
If we can recognise when we switch into ‘blame’ mode and accept why we have resorted to blame, we can create the conditions where we can challenge ourselves to switch into accountability mode. By rephrasing challenges from being outside of our control to being within our control we can move towards proactively achieving our goals. Therefore:
“I wanted to go for a run today, but the weather is just awful,” becomes, “My fitness is important to me and I know that it will rain sometimes. What else could I do on rainy days to ensure that I hit my exercise goals?”
“It was important that I met the deadline and didn’t leave it to the last minute, but my workload has just been a nightmare,” becomes, “It is important that I meet this deadline and I can’t predict what my workload will be. What can I do now to ensure that I don’t end up rushing at the last minute?”
Finally, “I really wanted to let my team lead the project, but in the end it was too important to risk it,” becomes, “Developing my team is really important; what actions can I take to ensure that when I let them lead this project it is sure to be a success?”
By reframing these challenges in a way which acknowledges where we have control, we free up our mental capacity so that instead of focusing on the problems we are able to create potential solutions.
Dr Rebecca J Jones
Associate Professor in Coaching
Programme Director for MSc in Coaching & Behavioural Change