Tables and chairs in an empty restaurant in bright daylight

When something goes wrong in an organization, the first thing many bosses want to know is: “Who did it?” “Who’s to blame?”

That’s not a good approach. Typically, it leads to a witch-hunt with everyone denying responsibility.

When a mistake occurs, the important thing is for everyone involved to understand how it happened and how it can be prevented from happening again.

Shaming people because of an error is not constructive. It invariably leads to resentment-sometimes open, and sometimes hidden. Don’t harp on what has happened. Just be sure everyone knows how it happened and that they are concentrating on keeping it from happening again.

A good way to get others to recognize and accept their share of the responsibility for something that has gone wrong is for the boss to step forward and take as much blame as possible himself. If you pick up part of the burden, it makes it a lot easier for the people who work for you to do likewise. Even if you weren’t to blame at all, try to find some way to share it. Why? Because it’s the best way, and sometimes the only way to get others to recognize their responsibility and admit it freely.

Think it over. Might you have made your instructions a little clearer? Was the person adequately trained? Should you have checked up on the operation more frequently? Did you overestimate the employee’s ability and experience? Should you have anticipated this kind of error and warned about it in advance?

If you can find a way to take even part of the blame, it will make it a lot easier for your subordinates to step up and take their share as well. If they don’t then it’s time to ask a few questions. Perhaps they didn’t understand their responsibility in the situation. In that case, it’s time you explained it more carefully.

Don’t worry about taking too much blame yourself. It’s the constructive, courageous approach of a genuine leader. The blame you willfully put on yourself isn’t going to hurt you one bit. On the other hand, even a small amount of undeserved blame placed on someone else may be deeply resented. And no matter who is to blame, don’t rub it in–not if you want good relations in the future.

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