Responsibility vs Blame vs Fault

Have you ever considered the distinct difference between placing blame, finding fault and determining responsibility?  They are surely all interconnected but they are also vastly different in leadership approach, critique for improvement and personal involvement in finding and enacting the solution. In a recent piece about Leadership and Management we identified several characteristics of leadership behavior. The same can be applied here: while managers find fault and place blame, leaders identify responsibility and help others to do the same.

Largely what term we use to describe who carries what responsibility for an action, or lack of an action, depends on our outlook, emotions and approach to leadership. If there is something that needed to be done and it either wasn’t done or it was done incorrectly, a “boss” (manager or first line supervisor) may place blame. Certainly anyone closer to the bottom in a chain of command who is answering to someone above them has a personal interest in making it clear that anything going wrong was someone else’s fault. But was it someone else’s responsibility?

Part of any job wherein you oversee and direct others – whether you are a manager, supervisor, leader, executive, whatever – part of the job is assigning tasks to members of your team. It behooves you to know which team member(s) are best suited to the task in skill, knowledge and character. Once you’ve assigned that task you’ve acknowledged, whether you like it or not, that you are equally responsible for seeing that task successfully completed as is the person you assigned the task. If that task is not properly completed, who is at fault, who is to blame and who is responsible are three entirely different things and focusing on blame does absolutely no good in the long run.

Who was responsible? There are at least two people as part of this answer: The manager or leader who assigned the task and the person to whom the task was assigned. The leader/manager may have taken no direct action toward the completion of the task, but they are equally responsible for it. The person whose job it was to accomplish the task holds direct responsibility for getting it accomplished, not accomplishing it properly or failing to accomplish it at all. It’s the leader’s/manager’s job to ascertain which it is (not done right or not done at all) and then mentor the person on how to successfully achieve the task at hand.

Who is at fault? This may be one person, it may be the other person, or it may be a combination of several members of a given team. Fault, an error or mistake, can be caused my misunderstanding, improper equipment, improper provision or other circumstances. Therefore, depending on what caused the failure to successfully complete a given task, who or what caused the fault can usually be identified and can often be demonstrated as not assigned or under the control of just one person. Ultimately, in the process of trying to successfully complete a task, identifying fault only serves a purpose as it allows the correction of said fault so that the task may be completed.

Who is to blame? Identifying this provides zero good in further attempts to complete the task. “Blame” is a concept that usually holds a single individual or small group of individuals, solely responsible for a failure or misdeed. People seeking to place blame often are just making sure they don’t get it themselves. Placing blame is often done in the workplace as someone seeks to defend why they didn’t do something. “It wasn’t my job,” or “it wasn’t my responsibility.” That said, placing blame doesn’t increase the chances of successfully completing a task on the next attempt. Increasing success rate on repeated attempts requires identifying responsibility, fault (mistakes made) and corrections before follow-on attempts.

The reality is that if you’re a team leader, manager, supervisor, etc. the tasks of each and every one of your team members ARE your responsibility. It’s great to have a team full of competent and motivated people, but sometimes part of your job is mentoring or leading them into that competency and motivation. Perhaps one of the biggest ironies in team dynamics is that if you as the leader place blame, then you’re doing nothing to reduce fault and you’re denying your responsibility. Such action does not increase the efficiency of your team at all. A leader who places blame is deflecting attention from the reality that s/he carries as much blame as the person who failed in the assigned task.

Here’s another distinct reality: If you THINK you are a leader yet you place blame on others, then you’re not really a leader. You’re just a person who has been placed in a position of responsibility and is riding on the efforts of others.

Think about it.

 

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