You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Don't Point Fingers

When you point a finger at someone, three fingers always point back at you. Blaming someone else for something is the easiest thing in the world to do and is usually wrong. When you're involved in something that fails or in something in which a mistake is made, more often than not, you're to blame, too. It's just easier to blame the other guy, and this is a device that most people can see right through.

Often in football, and in other sports, too, the outcome of a game comes down to a final play. Somebody makes a field goal or a penalty kick or a last-second three-pointer, or somebody hits a grand slam with two out in the bottom of the ninth. It happens, and somebody wins and somebody loses because of somebody's action or inaction. But you can't think of it like that. The outcome wasn't really decided by one final play. It was simply a culmination of everything that had happened in the game before that final moment. Sure, everyone loves the drama of a last-second victory, and everyone dreads the drama of a last-second defeat-and it's all you'll read about in the newspapers or see on TV the next day. But it's really what led to that final play's being the deciding factor that caused the outcome of the game: The offense turned the ball over too many times, the players fouled in the box, the batters weren't patient. A team never lets a play come down to a last-second situation, in which one person decides it all. Even if he made the shot, I say he didn't win the game-the team put him in a position to hit a shot that won the game. He surely didn't win it on his own. And if he misses the shot, he didn't lose the game for the team, because the team shouldn't have had to rely on that shot to win. That's why you can't blame him; you can't point fingers.

You shouldn't point fingers at anyone. Say you've worked really hard on a project with a couple of people in the office. It's supposed to be a joint effort, the results reflective of the coming together of some good minds. Except the project fails. It's a dud, and you're really worried about how that will reflect on you. So you defend yourself by saying, 'Well, he didn't do this and she didn't do that,' failing to take the responsibility as a group for the things that went wrong. The real failure is that your group didn't act as a team to make sure that what needed to get done got done. Usually it's not just one person's fault, even if that person completely dropped the ball and flaked out. It was the responsibility of the group to know that that person was flaking out and take action, either kicking him out of the group or making him aware that he needed to do his part or figuring some other way out. Nobody in a supervisory position wants to hear why something didn't get done, or why something didn't work; they want results. Period. They say, 'Don't tell me what the problem is. Find me a solution.'

I've seen players on teams blame one another for missed assignments, for getting burned by an opponent, even for losses. This disharmony usually comes when a team is losing, but I've also seen it when a player has an agenda-perhaps an incentive for making a certain amount of interceptions or tackles. If something doesn't go his way, his first reaction, because he's self-absorbed to begin with, is to blame someone else for blocking the path, when, in fact, it was his own inability to get the job done.

Even when someone else is truly at fault, pointing it out to her rarely gets the productive results you ultimately want. Sometimes that person does need to be called out, but it is the way in which you do it that determines whether you'll only anger her or whether you'll fix the problem and move on.

Say two of the people in your group are responsible for monitoring a certain web site and are to let you know when relevant new documents are filed. You work through a day, and the next morning you are stunned to find out that they didn't read through one of the new documents in its entirety and thus failed to bring it to your attention because they had dismissed it as something unimportant. You find out the next day that the relevant material was toward the end of the document, and you're enraged. How could they be so irresponsible as not to read the entire document? Before you launch into a tirade about their incompetence, stop and ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Do you want to create a scene and point fingers, or do you want to fix the problem and move on? You also have to ask yourself what you could have done to avoid the problem.

The people in your group are responsible for monitoring the web site, but you, as the group's leader, are responsible as well for reading all the documents posted there. The fact that they didn't call the relevant matter to your attention is their fault, yes, but your fault, as a supervisor, was not seeing that they did things correctly. You need to trust the people with whom you work, but you also have to realize that you are as responsible as they are when things go wrong. The effective way to fix the problem and move on is to frame your conversation with the group so as to accept some of the blame yourself, and then make your point. 'I was wrong not to read that entire document myself,' you say, for example, followed by, 'Next time, can you guys make sure you read through it all the way and make sure I do, too?' That is so much more effective than saying, 'You guys blew it.' All that creates is bad feelings. Assigning yourself some of the blame allows them to realize they made a mistake, correct it, and move on.

Pointing fingers in a relationship never works, either. Not if you want it to last. Even if you believe the other person is wrong, as in the business examples just given, there is a way to go about fixing the problem without assigning blame. The wash didn't get done, the mail wasn't put in the right place, the dry cleaning didn't get picked up. Blaming your spouse isn't going to solve the problem, even if it was his responsibility to do those things. Blame him and the fingers point back at you. Maybe you should have offered to take some of the load off. What could you have done differently to see that those things got done? Maybe it's something as simple as making an extra stop on the way home from work.

Before assigning blame, it is always best to ask yourself what you could have done differently yourself that might have avoided the error or mistake in the first place.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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