Saying that self-control is a positive character trait is, for most of us, an exercise in stating the obvious. Scientists, psychologists and philosophers have been extoling the virtues of self-control...
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda
For most of us, the truth lies more in actions than in words. It doesn’t really matter what someone says if the reality of his or her actions simply don’t match up. As leaders, there is a direct link between credibility and our level of effectiveness. And nothing shoots our credibility down faster than good intentions with a lack of follow-through. Only performance is reality.
It’s not hard to see why excuses are a major stumbling block to the success of any enterprise. For most organizations (especially Credit Unions), the vast majority of operating expenses are in human capital. Even small changes in a team’s productivity can have a huge impact on the bottom line. Excuses decrease morale, cause misunderstandings, deplete us of energy and motivation, and damage credibility.
With confidence in our political leadership at record lows and almost daily headlines about corporate scandal, there is an increased demand for real accountability. We are tired of excuses.
“One of the most important tasks of a manager is to eliminate people’s excuses for failure.”
– Robert Townsend, Up the Organization
As leaders, when we find ourselves making excuses, it’s time to stop and reevaluate what’s really going on. Not all excuses are bad. It’s unexamined excuses that are the problem.
Taking the time to investigate the real reason behind an excuse can lead to incredibly valuable information. Can you identify a pattern in the excuses you hear? Do they point to a practical change that needs to be made, such as more reasonable deadlines? Do responsibilities need to be examined and reassigned?
Excuses are often a red flag as to where we should make changes and reallocate resources. Understanding the cause behind why we, or our team, fell short of expectations, can lead to the kind of change that greatly enhances performance.
In addition, it can be particularly enlightening to examine our members’ excuses for not choosing a product or investment that we believe to be beneficial. Taking the time to really listen to the excuses our members give us can help us understand what’s important to them and what their major fears and concerns are.
So, the real question becomes, “How can we manage excuses and learn from them before they become a problem?” Here are a few strategies to consider.
Strategies For Managing Excuses More Effectively
- Start With Your New Hires. All of us tend to become more like those we associate with regularly. If we are around people for whom excuses are the norm, chances are, we’ll start making more of them as well. When interviewing for a new position, consider adding some questions that will help you evaluate how a candidate handles excuses. When candidates demonstrate an ability to be resourceful and resilient, it’s a good indication that they will take ownership for their actions without excuse.
- Identify And Deal With Fear of Failure. Fear of failure manifests itself differently in different people. For some, it results in low confidence. For others, it’s over confidence and arrogance. Sometimes it might even be complacency and an unwillingness to accept new challenges. In all cases, a fear of failure tends to come with a heavy dose of excuses. We all have a tendency to get defensive and start spouting excuses when we aren’t dealing well with our own fear of failure. As leaders, it’s important that we cultivate a culture where it’s ok to ask for help and admit mistakes.
- Don’t Discount The Importance of Trust and Humility. It’s tempting to take the attitude that our employees work for us. But, that’s not really true. As leaders, we work for them. Often, it’s the small things we do that can have the greatest impact on our organizational culture and performance. Demonstrating that we care about our employees through open communication and listening to what they have to say can go a long way towards building the kind of trust necessary to a no-excuse environment.
- Consider Every Decision In Light of Our Values and Priorities. Simply stopping and evaluating every decision and commitment in relation to our values and priorities, and then acting accordingly, can eliminate the need for excuses later on. None of us can be all things to all people. No one is able to do everything well. It’s important to know when to say “no” or when a particular initiative or task should be reassigned to someone better suited to manage it.
- Stop Saying “That’s Ok.” We owe it to our employees and team members to be honest and admit it when falling short is simply not ok. While berating others or ourselves is never an effective strategy, being honest about problems allows us to investigate what went wrong, set expectations and avoid similar issues in the future.
The bottom line is this: As leaders we must step up to the plate and decide that we will simply not tolerate excuses – in our team or ourselves. Mistakes will be made. Failure happens. It’s when we own our mistakes and failures, and choose to learn from them, that we can create a culture of success.