Then It Must Be My Fault

I’ve gone through most of my adult life believing we have carried forward one of those great attributes of childhood where it’s never our fault, it must’ve been someone else.

When I was a preschooler, my older brother and I were playing ball in the front yard. One of us threw the ball, (really, it wasn’t me) and one of us failed to catch the ball (yes, of course that was me). That hardball thrown by my strong-armed older brother at age 7 was just too fast for me to catch. As I moved to my left to dodge certain pain at some part of my body, I heard the crash of broken glass almost instantaneously. The look my brother and I gave each other was like a mirror image. Not only had we broken the window, but we were also using a hardball rather than a wiffleball as we had been so sternly instructed by our father. But at age 4 and 7, we knew what we were doing and on this sunny warm summer day, it was game on. I really don’t remember if it was the first pitch or not but you might guess it was certainly the last in that small grassy area next to the window, now waiting for repair, with a hole surrounded by a jagged star shaped impression. We both knew we were in trouble.

What may have been moments, seemed like hours. Perhaps it happened immediately or in reality it may have been one of those “wait till your dad gets home” afternoons. But eventually, the door opened and those heavy footsteps of an angry father came through the doorway. He looked at us both, glanced at the window and as he swung his head back to us he very purposely questioned, “who broke the window?”, And before we could breathe a word he continued with “…before you answer my question, you should understand I already know the answer!”

How could he possibly have known?  He wasn’t even there when the ball went cleanly through the living room window.  Neither of us had the opportunity to try to make him believe it wasn’t our fault. Somehow he knew, and he had us dead to rights. Now, of course as adults, we know he didn’t really know.  But he outsmarted us with this unbelievable parenting know-how trick.  He was impressive, and that evening we took our lumps for our indiscretion.

This tactic used by my father was understandably effective well into my teenage years. It had such a profound effect that I adopted it as my own, when my children also thought they knew better than to obey the rules of the house. It was quite an effective parenting tool until my son asked his grandmother/my mother how I, as his father could possibly know what he had done before any explanation was given after one of his offenses. My mother didn’t skip a beat as she smiled and said “you mean your dad uses that on you too?  He learned it from his father, who learned it from his father. And I’m guessing you will probably teach it to your children.” And she quietly told him the truth behind the statement, and I had been found out.

I admit I did also use this tactic on members of my team when I sensed something had gone wrong. They were amazed at my intuition, and ability to have connected the dots before giving them a chance to speak. And on many occasions it created a wonderful opportunity for them to self select and tell the truth. Because, just like children who want to plead it was not their fault, we as adults find ourselves repeating that same pattern of behavior from our childhood as a predictor of future behavior as an adult. It’s never our fault.

That’s why I was astounded at a revelation by an executive coaching client I was working with recently. We had been progressing through the 12 competencies of the Rare Leader™. On this day we were debating the fine art of Delegating. I had pushed and prodded him to understand and grasp the concepts of clarity in the assignment, the importance of following up, the warning against micromanaging, applying accountabilities, and sharing in the reward of success.

In the end he asked if he could share with me his concept of delegating.  He spoke of his frustrations when delegating does not go well, sensing that failure always comes at the most uncomfortable of personal times, typically when he is on vacation, with family, on weekends or late at night. For him, delegation breaks down when members of his team continue to ask him questions well into the process.   When I asked him how he combats this breakdown, he said a simple comment to his team member seems to correct the mistake with delegating.  He would look at his colleague and calmly state, “the more you need me when I am not here, the less I need you…”

I hardly blinked as he finished this statement. Pretty harsh, I thought, but very direct and to the point. As this thought flashed through my mind,  and before I could respond to the statement, he finished it by adding, “and that is my fault.”

“The more you need me when I am not here, the less I need you… and that is my fault”

How many times have you as a leader, when diagnosing a problem, chosen to self select – take the blame and admit, “then it must be my fault”?

Successful skills in Delegating is a competency of Leadership.  Taking personal ownership in the failure of Delegating is the sign of a Rare Leader™.

Who is a leader you know, that is avoiding blame?

  1. What examples do you have of personal ownership with failure?
  2. Where can admitting it is my fault be effective?
  3. When will you begin to admit it must be my fault?
  4. How will your team react when you admit it must be your fault?
If you want to learn more about the Rare Leader™ in you,
or if you are interested in retaining Steve as your Executive Coach,
Contact Steve Riege via: twitter, or his website.
2 Responses to Then It Must Be My Fault
  1. how to forget your ex fast
    May 24, 2011 | 10:53 am

    I’m just wondering if it’s viable to borrow part of this post to use for my research project.

    • Steve Riege
      May 24, 2011 | 12:00 pm

      Fred, Thanks for the note. I’d be happy to approve, but please send me what portion you plan on using, and what is the research topic?

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