Global Impact #2 – “I’m Not Part of the Problem”

Nobody’s “part of the problem” anymore, are we?  Not Senator Blanche Lincoln, as she declared this morning (“I have not been part of the problem!”) in kick starting her campaign to compete in a runoff election; not BP or Transocean or that third company involved with the Gulf Coast oil spill, who passed the blame to each other in a news conference last week.  I hear these news items and I think, “Whoa!  Stop!”  There are some great, everyday, doable mindsets influential leaders use that don’t ride this Blame Train.  Thank you, Senator Lincoln, BP, and Transocean for showing us the way; um, the other way leaders who influence might go… 

It strikes me so loudly when I see examples of placing responsibility elsewhere.  Do you cringe/rage/wonder how the heck when you see or hear things like BP/Transocean or: 

  • Matt Lauer (or pick your media host) talking about how the paparazzi or the media are making a circus out of an event.  Hello Matt!  You are the paparazzi!
  • A company leader says we are going to “bite the bullet” and cut back staff.  He’s not going anywhere (you might be), but he’s “biting the bullet.”  Jerry Harvey pointed out the hypocrisy of this expression years ago in a video, saying that the expression “bite the bullet” came from Civil War soldiers about to get amputations who were told to bite down on a bullet to endure the pain.  They were experiencing the real pain; managers cutting others are not.
  • “It’s not my fault; she’s being too sensitive.” 

Attempts to redirect responsibility seem so blatant to me sometimes that I wonder how the person can keep a straight face or a calm stomach.  Unfortunately, however, I know the discomfort of screwing up, or of wanting to appear more noble than the other guy, so the sad truth is that I know I have done the same thing of trying to absolve myself. 

But the difference for me is that I know I do this, and apparently from just these examples I have mentioned, I know humans try to shift blame, too.  I think leaders who want to have positive impact don’t say, “I’m not part of the problem.”  They may feel the urge to do so, but they act differently. 

I’m convinced after working with hundreds of leaders in my consulting over the years that one sign of maturity and effectiveness is the tendency to acknowledge problems rather than find ways to claim innocence.  As I coach leaders, the actual answers to problems seem much easier to me than it is dealing with my coaching partner’s desire to fend those problems off, particularly the ones that involve the leader herself. 

For example, one coaching partner of mine gets fabulous results at a very high level but seems to alienate people in the process, risking burnout and turnover of key personnel, as well as helping to promote an environment of avoidance and withholding of information.  The behavioral changes that could alleviate this are fairly simple; but the difficulty in moving forward is the coaching partner’s desire to underplay the issues and have a “perfectly logical explanation” for each one. 

There are alternatives to the Blanche Lincoln statement that I believe increase our ability to influence, have impact, and solve problems: 

Remember Projection and Perspective.  The two “Big Ps.”  I know I project my experiences and judgments on to others. I know they do the same to me.  Leaders particularly get a lot of projections – you’ve probably done a lot of things you never knew you did!  So when somebody sees me as “part of the problem,” one thing I know is that is their perspective.  Maybe they’re right, maybe not.  Remembering the two Ps can have a calming effect. 

Hmmm It.  Knowing I don’t like feeling blamed, I can start my reaction by acknowledging to myself, “Wow, there goes my internal Blanche Lincoln.  I want to scream ‘I’m not part of the problem.’”  Externally, you might simply say, “Hmmm,” as a way to calm your gut. 

Explore.  Instead of screaming, “I’m not the problem,” do the opposite – go toward the problem.  If you’ve been accused by one person, you might say, “Wow, that wasn’t how I saw it, but tell me how you see it,” and be sincerely interested in the response.  If you are leading a group, you might say, “Well, doesn’t sound too good.  Let’s focus on our part in this – how do you all think we may have participated in this?   What might we have done differently?” 

Look at our “Lies That Limit.”  My colleague, Teressa Griffin, has a book coming out this summer called Lies That Limit.  In it, Teressa focuses on the ways we unconsciously trap ourselves into limiting our influence or achievements by the accepted wisdom we utter.  You can get a preview in her recent article in Healthy Aging magazine, where she applies the Lies concept to being stuck and unhappy in our jobs.–Tips-on-Reversing-the-Psychological-Damage-/Page1.html    

Stuff like “I’m too old,” “I’m trapped in this job,” and “I don’t have the discipline to go out on my own” contains the same self-absolving quality that “I’m not part of the problem” does.  Look for Teressa’s book on and Amazon and Barnes and Noble in late summer.  Meantime her website gives you access to the Lies That Limit blog and the notion that we can limit ourselves simply through the words we use. 

I know that there are many leaders in business and government that practice calm, centered approaches to blame and to crisis, who meet “I’m not part of the problem” with a hand up to say, “Wait a minute.”  Here I’m suggesting a few things:  

  • Accepting differences in perspective
  • Being conscious about your gut saying “I didn’t do it, Daddy”
  • Moving toward issues
  • Monitoring our words 

What have you seen good leaders do, what do you do, to counter the “Blanche Lincoln response?”

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