Why People Do Not Take Responsibility
Many leaders have experienced the frustration when someone consistently refuses to take responsibility.
There are many ways to avoid accepting responsibility. The most obvious way is by giving endless excuses or, later, to blame someone else for the wrongdoing.
While consulting in formerly communist countries, I had an insight into why this might be happening. In those countries, dictatorships were the mode of government. The same might be happening in companies managed very autocratically.
In dictatorships, decisions are made from the top down, often without feedback from those responsible for carrying out the assignments. Goals are set based more on what the dictatorship or the autocratic leadership believes should be achieved rather than reality. As a result, the five-year goals set by the Soviet Union, for example, were missed by a big margin, and those assigned to carry them out were punished severely. In order to survive, those responsible to execute plans had to lie, pass the blame, and do whatever possible to avoid taking responsibility
Remnants of that behavior still plague countries that were once under communist rule. While consulting in those countries, I notice that too often the diagnosis does not focus on what is wrong with the situation or how it is carried out badly, but instead focuses on who is guilty. A diagnosis is tantamount to a witch hunt.
There is another reason for a culture of blaming and not taking responsibility.
The easiest diagnosis, the one that takes the least energy, is to personalize the problem; put the blame on someone. For example, when we cannot find the culprit easily, we pin it on the devil; “The devil made me do it,” or we yield and say, “It was God’s will.” Notice how we externalize the problem, pinning its cause on someone else and rejecting responsibility to dig deeper and diagnose what is really happening. Racism and antisemitism are manifestations of “personalizing” problems: the Jews, blacks, or illegal immigrants are the reason we have problems. An easy diagnosis with an easy solution: get rid of them.
Blaming someone takes less energy than diagnosing the system. But while it is the easiest “solution,” it has one major drawback: nothing is learned from such a solution. There is no learning in blaming, not to mention the pain and the tragedy that some of those easy solutions produce.
When diagnosing problems, the who variable should be the last variable analyzed. To quote a Chinese proverb:
He who blames others
Has a long way to go on his journey
He who blames himself
Is halfway there
He who blames no one
And I would add: and analyzes the system first.
We need to view failures as opportunities to learn what is wrong with what was done, how it was done, when it was done, or why it was done. Leave the who to the absolute end, or you will just be shooting the messenger.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes