Does every manager love to play the blame game? May be not, but many of them still do. I have often wondered why managers do it. I am not going to talk about the stuff you can read in HBR (Harvard Business Review) articles or things that you can watch on YouTube. I am going to share some of my experiences and what I have learned through them.
I have worked with several managers – some were good while others were terrible. Let me illustrate this point a little more by sharing a couple of stories with you. In one of the organizations that I worked with, I had two interesting experiences. I do not wish to take any names, so I will refer to the two managers described here as Manager 1 and Manager 2.
Manager 1: We were not doing well as a team, our scores were not up to the expectations set by the clients and we were badly hit. Our manager was summoned to attend a meeting where she was torn apart (figuratively speaking) by the senior management. We came to know about that because there was no dearth of such news bearers in our office. These people were experts in gathering such information and spreading the rumor. We had no idea if the news was true or not, neither did I care to think at that time. I was young and had little experience of how things work in the corporate world. But one thing was for sure – I was afraid. I had already constructed in my mind, how the scene would be like, upon her return from the meeting. I was sweating about the prospect of going into a team meeting with her as my own performance was far from the expected standard.
Finally the suspense was over, she returned from the meeting, sat on her desk for some time and hardly spoke a word. When our shift ended she said that she wanted to talk to us. I thought, that’s it – now we will be lambasted. But to my utter surprise and confusion, she did not speak any harsh word with any of us. She asked what problems, our concerns and how could we overcome those challenges. She told us about other teams who were also not performing well but managed to come up with sterling performances. She encouraged being bold and going beyond our normal boundaries to help the customers. She motivated all of us to do a better job and believe that we can reach the target for the month. Not a single negative word! No criticism, no self-pity, no bullying, no shouting, no blaming of people, nothing! – I came out feeling much better than how I had gone into the meeting. We did not end very well that month though, since we had very few days left in the month. But the following month and many months after that we performed extremely well (just for the record).
Manager 2: I was still working with the same organization. My role had changed and I was working as a performance coach, largely because I was good at my erstwhile role. We were going through a similar situation; I had an entirely different experience. The team was not doing well, I was trying to do my best to help the team members as best as I could at that time. One fine day, our Manager 2 called the entire team for a meeting. Having attended meetings with my Manager 1, I had a good notion about team meetings. I was accustomed to meetings that were constructive, helpful and motivating – nothing to be fearful of. Man, was I in for a surprise or what? Our Manager 2 let off some steam that day. He took special pleasure in humiliating everyone inside the room including myself. There were personal attacks, derogatory comments and plenty of blames. I think he had done some specialization on blaming people; he was great at that art. That was not the only time he blamed someone, there were other instances too. On one occasion, he told me that whether I am doing a good job will be determined by how many associates walk up to him (our Manager 2) and blames me for their plight. My job was to make their lives miserable. Only then people will perform. I was getting influenced by him after some time. But thankfully, good sense prevailed and I rescued myself from becoming a monster.
The above two stories clearly indicate that every manager responds to difficult situations differently.
But the question is why do some managers (you can read Monsters, if you like) play the blame game when things go wrong?
Below are 5 reasons for that:
- Easy and Convenient – It is the easiest and the most convenient thing to do. Think about it, what is the easiest thing to say when you are in trouble? – “It’s because of you” or “It’s all because of him”.
- Insecurity – When people feel insecure, they want to hide it. They want to show how strong they are although they are afraid inside. This is starting point of all kinds of bullying and blaming. By putting the blame on someone else, they try to hide behind that so that no one finds out that they are actually feeling scared.
- Lazy – They are just too lazy to learn how to handle the situation, acquire a new skill or even invest time on their people and teach them. This leads to incompetence and accentuates the feelings of insecurity.
- Ego – I can’t be wrong. It’s either you or someone else who is wrong. My method is the only correct method. If you are not following it, then you can never succeed and then you will be the one to take the blame. That is the line of reasoning. I am sure you get the point.
- Truth is too hard – It takes a great deal of courage and fortitude to accept the truth and tell the truth. Try this with yourself. It happens with these managers and they find it very hard to deal with the truth.
Good managers do not fall for this trap. They know that by blaming people they will lose the most important element that gives them strength – Trust. They are able to let go of their ego, ready to accept an alternative, not afraid to teach people what they know and are ready to do the hard work.
This does not mean there is no room for feedback. However, feedback should be constructive. The purpose of feedback is to help people to improve, not to blame people and tear them apart!
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