I was at a conference recently, listening to a panel of CEO’s talk about their leadership experience. One of them was talking about how she’d pulled her team together in a time of crisis. She highlighted the common victim mentality we’re all familiar with, and how there was no room for that in this crisis. She raised an interesting question. What is the opposite of responsibility? And then she answered her own question with a quote I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
“The opposite of responsibility is not irresponsibility. It’s blame.”
–Kerry Siggins, CEO, Stone Age
Oof. Does that hit you in the gut the same way it does me?
Sometimes we learn this model young
Early in my career, I played the blame game. I had watched my parents throughout my whole life struggle to apologize for anything or to accept responsibility for certain things, like hurting other people’s feelings. Instead, they blamed the other person. It was never their fault. I could see how untrue that was and was on the receiving end of their blame more than a few times. And yet, I found myself doing the same damned thing.
I got feedback sometimes from colleagues that it wasn’t helpful. (Who am I kidding? This was community organizing. I got straight up CALLED out, as in on the carpet.) I still resisted, digging in my heels and blaming others even more. It’s embarrassing to think about now.
Honestly, I think it was having kids that finally helped me see how wrong and how damaging this can be to relationships of all kinds. I’ve shared before one of the epiphany moments I had with my eldest son when he was in middle school. I’d hurt his feelings and he was trying to tell me that. I kept saying he was interpreting my words wrong. He finally said, “Mom. If I accidentally stomp on your toe, do you care that it was an accident? No! You just care that your toe now hurts!”
Something about that young, earnest, vexed face looking up at me helped me see it clearly in that moment. I was blaming him for not understanding instead of taking responsibility for communicating effectively. So, I apologized.
Where does this show up in your world?
I’ve met many a team member and the occasional team leader who really struggles with this. Once again, our best tools are asking for feedback and engaging in reflection. If you want to find opportunities to grow and learn, I promise you you’ll find them.