Blame and the Split Second Journey

Imagine for a moment you are the CEO of a celebrated, enormously successful firm. It’s the end a long week and you find yourself at your inbox, staring at an email from one of your most trusted leaders…describing in blistering detail how incompetent he finds you and your latest decision. What do you do?

More importantly, what do you think?

In that moment, do you feel attacked and move to defend yourself? Wield your authority and take him out? Or perhaps, do you take your attention in a completely different direction?

There are many reasons Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, is celebrated. Not the least of which is how he handled a similar situation. In this interview, he describes the split second journey from the initial knee-jerk reaction he had after reading the email, to that place of harvesting a ripe opportunity by getting curious about why someone was so emotional.

You don’t have to go to every party you’re invited to.

Blame is a common reaction to unplanned, unruly, and disappointing situations. Most people can relate to how satisfying and inviting it is to launch into an analysis of whose fault it is, and the most accurate way to spread it among the players at hand. Unfortunately for teams and the people who lead them, blame is as toxic as it is common.

Organizational systems need leaders who can skillfully work with criticism. See it for what it is, and not engage in escalating it by reacting to it with more toxic behavior. This CEO described three essential ‘unlocking moves’ that skillfully handled this not-so-subtle invitation into the Blame Game:

  1. Assume someone has good intentions. Do you want to solve a problem or do you just need to vent?
  2. Let them know that ‘we are in this together.’ It’s never too late. Tell me what you’re concerned about.
  3. Stand for the culture you want. After we solve the problem, we will talk about the way you expressed yourself…there are different ways to do it.

The Blame Game is one of those parties that doesn’t usually end well for anyone. It may be exhilarating in the short term, but you can count on it to erode productivity eventually. Becoming masterful – or even just more skillful – at working with it, is one of the first steps to increasing the effectiveness of any leader, and to optimizing the results of any team.

What impact is blame and criticism having on your team’s effectiveness?

What do your leaders need to master the split second journey from knee-jerk reaction to an unlocking move?


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