Who is responsible?

By Scott Westerman
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“The person who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.”— Lou Holtz

The blame game. We all love to play it. It is the essence of the blood sport we call “politics”. It’s the easy way out for those who won’t roll up their sleeves and contribute to a solution.

We love to get on the “accept it now and complain about it later” plan. But there is never any real return on that investment. To paraphrase Doug Larson, “The reason people blame things on others is that there’s only one other choice.”

If you don’t like your present situation, what are you doing to change it? And complaining about it doesn’t count as action. It’s tension relieving and not goal achieving.

“Success on any major scale,” writes Michael Korda, “requires you to accept responsibility. In the final analysis, this is the one quality that all successful people have in common.”

What this means is this: Test the temperature of your coffee before you drink it. Test drive the car before you buy it. Get to know your significant other before you get married. Research a company thoroughly before you choose to work there. Know your candidate before you vote. Understand the risks before you sign the surgical release form.

The same things apply when you’re entrusted with authority. When you take on the mantle of leading a team, you also take responsibility for outcomes. George Washington Carver may have put it best when he said, “Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.” Some business leaders may place blame for their failures on others while continuing to reap big paychecks even as their companies struggle. Politicians might hope to keep their jobs by attributing any sad state of affairs to the other party while they seek your vote to continue a culture of finger-pointing and gridlock.

One of my favorite maxims is, “the fish stinks from the head back.” So when your CEO or your congressman spends more time blaming than doing, perhaps it’s time to associate your self with a new fish. If you don’t, you can’t complain about the smell.

This doesn’t mean that we throw everybody off the bus when the ride gets bumpy. Progress happens in fits and starts, often with two steps forward and three steps backward. People are imperfect and sometimes good ones make mistakes and deserve a second chance. This is how we learn. What’s important is making your own judgements based on the best possible data. And taking responsibility for what happens next.

As you approach the many crossroads ahead, remember:

  • We always get what we demand. Demand excellence.
  • When you lead, you can delegate authority, but never responsibility. Be personally accountable.
  • Before you make any major decision, do your homework and accept responsibility for the outcome.

Life requires that we give a certain amount of command and control to others. But at the end of the day, the extent of our happiness and our suffering is determined by one person and one person alone.