Creative Leadership

Stop Defending Yourself and Start Fixing the Problem

Years ago, I noticed with a particular vendor we worked with at the time, when a problem happened, he would immediately start defending himself.  Whether or not it was actually his problem, he would drop everything and produce a long line of emails, phone notes, and other documentation defending why it wasn’t his fault.  But from my perspective,  I’m only marginally interested in fault, because we’ll have plenty of time to determine the cause later.  What I need right now is to solve the problem.   But sadly, our vendor wasn’t unusual.  In the workplace, people spend enormous time, money, and effort in an campaign to avoid blame – and remarkably little on actually solving problems.

No one wants to be blamed for something – especially if they didn’t cause the problem.  But if you really want to get noticed in a positive way, and want management to value you – stop defending yourself and start solving problems.

That’s what the guy in the executive suite notices…

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15 Comments

  1. This goes with something I learned a while back:

    1) Make sure everyone knows as soon as there is a problem.
    2) Don’t just bring the problems up– bring solutions as well.

  2. In a spiritual sense you cannot defend yourself and ask forgiveness at the same time. Make your choice to do one or the other. My suggestion is ask forgiveness.

  3. It’s hard not to defend your position when your boss accuses you of something you were not responsible for in order to cover for the family politics at work. There is no solution when dicey politics are in play…. The only solution is an answer that helps enable the politics to remain in place. I couldn’t agree more with this advice; it just doesn’t work where I’m employed…. unfortunately.

  4. I’ve fixed it, covered for the incompetent guy, and forgiven so much that now I’m looking like the bad guy. Time to move on to another place and start it all over again. And pray it doesn’t fall apart at the old place. More often than not, it does. 🙁 too bad.

    Maybe next time I’ll just let the dead wood float away. Bad attitude? Maybe. But it doesn’t help him to let everyone else think he’s OK.

  5. It is so easy to get defensive. I know the art well. M. J. had it right when he said to start with the man in the mirror. The older I get, the more relevant this becomes. Great article.

  6. Years ago when I was working in IT, this was the norm (and I expect that to be the case even more so today). I think a lot had to do with the enormous responsibility of running the internal systems of a business and the poor leadership of managers and directors.
    I personal am not afraid of problems; they happen…You deal with them as best you can, and if you have a team working on an issue you hope all are there to work together (no “I” in team…yada, yada). That is why (and I might had heard this from someone else years ago, but I’ll take the credit for now) I always tried to hire people “smarter” then me. I wanted the best on my team…and I wanted them to shine. There was no ego, because we were a team, and their success was my success. I’m not saying I’m perfect. I find myself “deflecting” blame when things go south, now and then…but (most of the time) I try to focus on the problem, not “how can I save my hide”…that can come later 🙂

  7. I think you should put this in context respecting a person’s boundaries. Continually covering for a co-worker’s lack of planning or incompetence is a unhealthy, for the people and the organization.

    1. That’s a great issue Bill. Covering for a friend because of sickness or an honest mistake is one thing. But continually covering for incompetent co-workers hurts everyone – even the in-competent worker – because they start believing they’re doing OK and it gives them a false sense of success. Use sensitivity, but things need to be transparent, and incompetency needs to be exposed and dealt with appropriately.

      1. I agree with you both. And others, too, that a relationship is important, too. But when the boss is more concerned with keeping the messed up guy thinking he’s doing good that he refuses to deal with the problems — it’s a lose, lose, lose situation. Too bad. He was a great boss in most other ways. I hate to see the structure imploding. He’ll probably never know why.

  8. The human tendency to deflect or defend demonstrates a short-sighted, knee-jerk effort for damage control. Not very effective, but we’ve been doing it for centuries (Adam and Eve)

    I think the best solution is to anticipate it and address it preemptively by stating simply, “I’m not interested in placing blame, I just want to find a solution.” The person who is capable of following thru will step up and the one who uses blame as a strategy to avoid responsibility will just come up with more obstacles. At least this way I don’t waste my time listening to someone go on exhaustibly in order to make themselves feel better.

    1. I think that’s a great suggestion Carol. After problems happen, if leaders would open the conversation with “I’m not interested in placing blame…” it would make a huge difference in the response from the team. Good word for all of us.

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