To Take The Blame

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Failure is yours, success is ours. When we make mistakes it is a natural human reaction to try to explain why, and sometimes to blame it on someone or something else – to find your alibi, your explanation of how you were not really involved at all. Resist that impulse.

Don’t give yourself too hard a time or bury yourself in self-doubt. But accept that your failures are always your own – and your successes always belong to others. It becomes you so much better than the alter- native, that failure is always someone else’s, and success is always yours. If you take the former approach, you will be aware that someone will surely give you credit for some of the success in due time.

I once wrote a CEO’s letter to the shareholders as part of the annual report. The company had missed the plan, which meant that I as CEO had missed the plan, and I wanted to give some perspectives on what was going on in the company. We had launched new products and services during the year, expanded into new markets, raised capital and done a lot of other things. I wanted to take the blame for running the company in such a way that we lost focus, did too much at once and lost growth. Also, I felt the urge to give a better picture of everything positive that was going on in the company, since we had implemented a new strategy, spun off an interesting business under a new brand and had many exciting opportunities in the pipeline. Instead, I realized the letter must have sounded like a big excuse and an effort to explain. I used ‘we’ too often, where I should have written ‘I’. Always admit mistakes up front, always take the blame without a fuss.

Anything connected to failure, like missing the plan, should start with ‘I’. I have missed the plan. I am sorry. Anything connected with success, such as winning a major client, should start with ‘We’. We won an important contract. We are happy.

When things fail, it is usually the negative result of a number of correlated and interrelated circumstances and people involved. The point here is not that you should always take on the sole responsibility for everything that goes wrong, it is rather about how success as well as failure is portrayed to others, and your approach to that. So, as a general rule in the back of my head: Failure is yours. Success is ours.