“I learned that if there was an emotional issue in the organization, I was playing a part in it, and if I could modify the part I was playing others would do the same. Anytime one key member of an organization can be responsibly responsible for self, the problem in the organization will resolve.” Dr. Murray Bowen

In last weeks blog, we examined shifting from linear thinking to systems thinking. Linear thinking is characterized by cause and effect. A leader stuck in a linear mode of thinking will have a natural tendency to assign blame when faced with an organizational problem. A leader who is thinking in a systemic way is seeking to understand “What’s really going on here?”. Once armed with a broader context of the problem and its contributing factors a mature leader will avoid blame and seek to understand “What part am I playing?”.

In the exploration of the question “What part am I playing?” the leader gains an understanding of how his/her own actions or inactions may have contributed to the problem or delayed its solution.

Blame Focus

  • what caused this
  • who’s fault is it
  • what are the appropriate consequences

Responsibility Focus

  • what are the contributing factors
  • who is involved
  • what are the outcomes of my actions/inactions

Clarity of responsibility provides the foundation for accountability not blame. A leader focused on responsibility vs. blame establishes a framework for accountability that is rigorously self-focused:

seeing – how one is contributing to the problem

assessing – the outcomes of ones own actions

being – transparent about the outcomes of ones own actions

modifying – ones own functioning when evidence suggests its warranted

The following scenario illustrates a blaming orientation vs a responsibility orientation.

Blame Orientation

Suzy, we lost the XYZ contract because the last project was a month behind schedule. I have traced the schedule delays back to a key piece of equipment that was on back order. As the project manager, you need to do more than identify back-ordered equipment on progress updates. If this happens again we will have to let you go.

Responsibility Orientation

Suzy, we lost the XYZ contract.  XYZ communicated that they canceled the contract because the last project was a month behind schedule. Upon further investigation, I learned that the schedule was a secondary concern to a lack of communication. If they had known about the delays alternate arrangements could have been made. My requirement for daily project updates was a key factor in this outcome. As our company has expanded the daily project updates have become too onerous for me to read. Going forward I will expect weekly project updates due by noon Monday.  Include any risks to schedule and mitigating factors in the updates.

The scenario highlights a responsibility orientation vs. a blame orientation. In next weeks blog we will take a look at the underlying emotional “process” in this scenario that transcends the “content” of the problem.