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October 2005

Stop the Blame Game!

Here I go again — another newsletter topic prompted by a question from my daughter Carylyn. It was during the news coverage of the devastating destruction of Hurricane Katrina and she popped this question: “Mommy, what's the 'blame game'?”

Well — what I know — is that the sooner she learns to: a) identify what it is b) avoid playing it c) get out of it if she gets sucked in, and d) redirect her own and others' energies to a more productive game — the better off she'll be at school, at home, eventually at her work, in her community — heck — in her whole life.

So — just what is the 'blame game'? Maybe a definition and some current events examples might illustrate the origin and use of this concept. First, the definition:

blame: to censure, to find fault with; to accuse; to hold responsible.

We saw the blame game in evidence for about a month following the devastation from Hurricane Katrina — the Mayor of New Orleans was blaming everyone from FEMA to the White House for not sending in relief, the White House blamed the Governor of Louisiana for not allowing in the National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, who designed the flood gates which broke and caused the major flooding in New Orleans, blamed the environmentalists, and so on.

President Bush's Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, replied to reporters who questioned the government's delayed and ineffective response to Katrina with this classic response “If you want to continue to engage in finger-pointing and 'blame-gaming' that's fine…”

Apparently the phrase 'blame game' may have first appeared in print on Nov. 27, 1937 when an anonymous writer, commenting on the New Deal controversy wrote, “The educated call the rest of the world moron… while the workers claim the work is too hard and the idle say it's not enough… Let's best the 'blame game' by thinking deeply, talking sensibly and blaming sparsely”.

The growing and vocal controversy about the Iraqi war is offering us another opportunity to watch the politicians engage in a blame game. The Democrats are blaming the President for taking us into Iraq under false pretenses, the White House is blaming the Democrats for reneging on their previous support for the war. Meanwhile the Iraqi people are both blaming and hailing the US on their march toward freedom.

Sometimes amid all of the carping, we finally began to hear and see people focused forward towards a more positive future. One great example of this was watching people show up 24/7 at the NBC Today Show-sponsored “Habitat for Humanity” effort for Katrina victims. People from all walks of life — janitors, lawyers and waitresses showed up at Rockefeller Center and picked up hammers to help build houses that would be shipped to our Southern border states. It was one way — beyond just contributing money — that people could turn away from blame and work on something that would solve a problem and deliver results.

In any blame game it's easy to get caught up in trying to figure out “who started it” and “who's right”. All of this takes up an incredible amount of energy that could be more productively spent on jointly deciding what's got to be done and getting on with the business of getting results.

The Berenstain Bears and the Blame Game
by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Normally I review very serious business books relevant to my newsletter topic. In researching Amazon.com for such a book on 'the blame game' this was the first book on the subject to pop up. So, I ordered it (and will pass it on to my 10-year old!) and here's what the book described:

There is a family of four bears, Mama Bear, Daddy Bear, Sister Bear and Brother Bear. Their home has recently come under siege because of the constant 'blame game' which Sister and Brother Bear are engaged in: “It's her fault, No it's his fault” is the never-ending refrain when something in the house is either broken or lost.

Finally Mama Bear, at wit's end with all the finger-pointing, says to Buster and Scooter Bear “Instead of pointing fingers we should just get to work to solve the problem — there is enough blame to go around.”

In this world of business, politics, war and relationships, we all need a Mama Bear to remind us to stop the blame game.

Actions for Results:
Tips and Tools for Avoiding the Blame Game

If you suspect you may be heading towards a blame game moment, keep these principles in mind:

• Ask: How can we fix it? NOT who broke it and why did they do it.
• Try to get agreement on the Goals that everyone wants to achieve
• Ask for the facts and objectively assess the situation, then search for answers and solutions
• Use the goals as measurement tools not weapons
• Use public “thankings” and private “spankings”
• Reinforce the value of “accepting responsibility” for your successes and your failures and the value of not making excuses, giving reasons or telling stories with your team

EquiPro International Solutions and Learning Products

EquiPro's mission is to inspire and guide leaders and teams to solutions that enable them to achieve their best results and their highest potential.

We believe that this process begins with accepting responsibility for your role in creating the reality you are living in today, rather than blaming others and victimizing yourself in the process.

Ask or Tell the EquiPro Coach

Are you or your organization facing a particular performance challenge? Leadership issues? Turf wars instead of teamwork? Struggling with a major change? Expanding globally, but not collaborating across borders? Frustrated with lack of business growth?

“We were all inspired by your presentation on 'The Leader's Legacy.' If you don't mind, I'd like to pass on some of your thoughts to the rest of the organization.”

Bonnie Lieberman
Senior Vice President
& General Manager
John Wiley & Sons, Inc

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We want to hear from you- whether it is a question or a suggestion!

Are you or your organization facing a particular performance challenge? Leadership issues? Turf wars instead of teamwork? Struggling with a major change? Expanding globally, but not collaborating across borders? Frustrated with lack of business growth?

Lynda McDermott

Lynda is honored to be one of over 570
Certified Speaking Professionals
in the United States

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