Why does it seem lately that when the “going gets tough…” many people start blaming rather than fulfilling the phrase (“…the tough get going”)? It is rare that, during the heat of an argument, someone will stop the conversation to take responsibility for the misunderstanding by saying, “Stop worrying about it – it was not entirely (if at all) your fault. This is my responsibility, not yours, and I totally take the blame for the problems we must not address.” More often than not an argument is peppered with “It is your fault!” or “We never would have been in this position had it not been for what you did without asking!” Many find it hard to accept responsibility for a mistake but far too easy to claim recognition for success (whether or not it is truly warranted) – a flaw that does little to demonstrate professionalism, ethical behavior, intrinsic values or help develop and mold impressionable individuals looking up to their leader for guidance and direction. In today's world, far too many people live their lives "behind the curtains" as did the Wizard of Oz - dictating what others are to do rather than "showing them the way" to act, live and succeed.
Leading by example – by being what you are rather than trying to absorb the accolades given to everything your team has accomplished – goes a long way to establishing credibility, respect and validating the values you express everyday as a leader. Before taking credit (or assigning blame) for a success (or an opportunity to learn from our mistakes), take a moment to think about the world’s tendency to ask that we “do as it says, not as it does,” and seek ways that your actions (and words) might allow you to lead by example (encouraging others to follow you because they WANT to) rather than by edict (expecting others to follow you because they have been ordered or told to do so).
It is hard to convince others to NOT do something when they see you do similar things yourself. How can you expect your employees to adhere to an “eight to five” schedule if your own day frequently begins at eight fifteen or ends at four thirty? People choosing the transparency of living life as if they were within a glass house without shades or blinds tend to be more aware of their actions (and the ramifications of the things they choose to do OR intentionally refuse to do). People tend to believe what they SEE in their leaders - DOING what they observe (as it must be acceptable or “the boss” would not do it) rather than blindly responding to what they are told. If a leader consistently comes to work late, leaves early or wastes time during the day, how can his/her employees be expected to think what they are told to do is more important than what has been demonstrated as being acceptable? Parents tell their children to obey the rules (as they break the speed limit or are caught in a multitude of “white lies” not intended to hurt anyone). We expect our kids (and employees) to listen to their teachers (or their “boss”) – often without giving them a valid or concrete reason to do so. Rather than seeking and earning respect, far too many feel that it is their “birthright” to claim such a prize – declaring themselves to be “legitimate” without being tested or proving themselves qualified. None of us are perfect so we need "rules" to help us successfully live within our glass houses - guidelines that would include:
1) Recognize that words are but whispers when compared to the shouts of your actions. Those close to us may be able to hear what we say (if they are inclined to listen and motivated to act) but anyone having an unobstructed view of what we do will be influenced (positively or negatively) by what they see. As a child I was taught that “seeing is believing.” Never was I told that “doing as you are told – without thought or hesitation – makes things right.” Whether you interact with people as a manager, a peer, a friend, or as part of a family, what you do and how you act are the characteristics that help to identify your strengths and morale character – NOT the things you say about yourself or TELL others to do.
2) Look for the good in others – loudly praising their positive actions, interactions and
results while quietly addressing their shortcomings, inadequacies or opportunities to learn. People usually see what others do wrong but rarely recognize or acknowledge what they have done right. Children are “expected” to be well behaved in public so we rarely hear a parent say, “You are really being a good shopper today – I am so proud of you!” to their child. Rather it is “do not touch,” “wait until we get home,” and “I am never going to bring you shopping again!” Though we need to identify negative behavior and act to minimize unwanted consequences as we correct it, we should also make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well. The next time you are involved in a heated debate with someone you care about rather than saying “This is all your fault!” try to assume some of the responsibility yourself. People tend to react better when they know not only what they should not do (or have done) but also what they did (or are about to do) well!
3) Never cast the first stone – especially if you “live within a glass house.” Even if you take the time to open a window before tossing your criticism out towards a friend or co-worker (intentionally saying EXACTLY what you wanted to say and do), an individual scorned (or addressed) rarely takes the time to open the door before returning fire (choosing to simply cast the rocks back towards where they came from as a means of self-preservation and defense. I have often heard people defend their inappropriate actions by shifting focus and blame – by saying “…but you did such and such so do NOT blame me!” When we view life as if we were living in a glass house – our thoughts and actions fully exposed to those around us providing us with no place to hide our own errors and secrets – we find ourselves more understanding not only of what others do but also of the REASONS they do things. We are less apt to see fault in them when we first examine ourselves to make sure that we are without fault.
4) Judge yourself using the same standards you apply to others. The greatest leaders of our times would never ask others to do what they would not do themselves. Truly great generals led their troops into battle rather than following them from behind. Parents must “walk the talk” if they want their children to learn. Managers cannot expect loyalty, efficiency and a good utilization of time from their employees without demonstrating it themselves.
We all live in a “glass house” of some kind. Regardless of how much we may wish to hide our thoughts, actions and attitudes from the world while expressing our wishes, desires and orders, what others believe us to be is shaped by what they see when we think we are alone. When we view our lives as being acted out within a glass house – one without shades or coverings to hide what we do (even if our voices are muffled beyond recognition by the walls we have built around us), we begin to concentrate on what we should be doing rather than focusing on what others should not be doing. When our actions speak louder than our words – reinforcing the things we intentionally set out to do rather than expecting others to accomplish what we would not attempt ourselves – what we say becomes a clarification of what we expect rather than an initiator of action. Much can be accomplished when others act by following a positive example rather than respond to fulfill unclear declarations – when they seek our approval rather than desperately trying to escape or avoid our criticism.