“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
― George Washington
One of my biggest pet peeves has to be when people make lame excuses when something didn’t get done. Sure, there are times when there is a legitimate reason for something left unfinished. Maybe a person was blocked from moving forward waiting on a needed piece of information from someone else. Or perhaps it was uncovered during the process of getting it done that some other element was critical to having it done right. And sometimes a person is legitimately overwhelmed juggling too much at any given time.
But more often than not the reasons fall into the excuses camp. Like they say “I didn’t have time” and I hear “I didn’t make time.” They say “I didn’t get around to it” and I hear “It wasn’t important enough for me to give it my attention.” They say “I forgot” and I hear “I overestimate my ability to remember without writing something down.” “It’s not my responsibility” can all too easily translate into “I have no initiative or ownership.” No one told me” can often equate to “I wasn’t sure but it would have taken too long to ask.”
The thing about excuses, we ALL know exactly what they are. Whether you are a newly hired employee or the President of the company, excuses like these make you look like an overgrown twelve year old trying to cover bad behavior or a lack of thoughtfulness or follow through in a situation. I’m not saying that any among us shouldn’t be allowed our mistakes. In fact, even as leaders, making our fair share of mistakes shows our team we are in many ways, just people, fallible and capable of missing things now and then. It humanizes us and isn’t bad—if we handle it well. What I am suggesting is checking in with yourself about how you posture your own missteps. What can a little accountability add to the pat excuse driven responses?
“I didn’t have time” or “I didn’t get around to it” becomes “I’m sorry I let that one slide, I will get on it now.” (and follow through).
“I forgot” could look more like “I’m sorry I got caught up on another issue and I completely forgot that you asked me about that. Let me get you an answer on that.” Or “Can you please remind me because I know this is important for you to move forward.”
“It’s not my responsibility” becomes “How can I help you figure out what you need to do or get the information you need?”
“No one told me” becomes “I should have paused to ask or confirm and I will next time.”
Do you as a leader model the adolescent lame excuse path or do you model the kind of accountability that serves you, your team and your customers? The reality is the better we can be at real accountability, the more likely our team will engage this same kind of ownership with us, our managers and our customers.