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Blog: Leadership Pitfalls: Are you making mistakes or making excuses?

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It’s happened to us all: At some point in our careers we didn’t know the answer.

We were not prepared. We weren’t sure of what decision to make. And for some – this is our worst nightmare! Especially in the workplace, we are concerned with how our coworkers, bosses or clients perceive us. We want them to feel we are credible and competent additions to the team. But how do we balance that with our innate “human-ness”? The state of being imperfect – but trying to be so?

The stress and discomfort of being in this situation can cause many of us to fall into the trap of:

  • Deflecting blame to someone else
  • Making excuses – that aren’t really excuses
  • Making something up –even if it may be wrong
  • Postponing the decision – again

And while you think these tactics help you save face – if they are your default reaction, they can actually degrade your reputation more than you think. As emotionally intelligent workers and leaders, we need to be aware of what we are doing and saying and how it is perceived by others.

Being mindful of your delivery, your motivations and your audience will help you to navigate these situations with more grace and a lot more credibility in the end.

Take deflection, for example. If you are in a meeting for the third week, stating again that you aren’t able to answer a question or move a project forward because Bob hasn’t gotten back to you, do you really believe that some of that blame isn’t on you? It may be that Bob isn’t returning your calls – but what else have you tried? Is there another way you can get what you need? Blame is like a mirror, it may start to reflect things that you may not want be known for – laziness, not being resourceful or avoiding accountability. Be sure you focus on other approaches you’ve taken and what other steps you have planned to get the task done.

In the case of excuses, it can be tricky. Often, things do come up that need immediate attention that take you away from the task at hand. Priorities shift and that isn’t always your fault. The key with this is delivery. Complaining that you’ve been swamped and haven’t gotten to it will probably not make your team feel good about the situation. Instead of an excuse – own it. Then, clearly articulate what took you away from the project, why it was necessary to divert your attention and your action plan for completion – it sounds a lot less like an excuse and a lot more like a variance in a project plan!

When you are asked a question – ITS OKAY NOT TO KNOW THE ANSWER. Sure, your job comes with a fair amount of ‘resident knowledge’ that you should try to retain – however, we are not computers. If you aren’t sure – don’t make something up!! The recipient may be making important decisions based on this information and the impact could be huge if you are wrong. Don’t let your ego get in your way. As simple “I’m not sure, but I’ll get back to you on that by tomorrow afternoon…” will be a lot better for you and for the person asking the question. In fact –that gives you extra time to beef up your answer and help them even more!

Lastly – decision making should come with some consideration – at least most of the time. However, an ongoing lack of decision can lead your team to feel uncomfortable and could have impacts on many other decisions or projects. If you are feeling uncomfortable making a decision – share what is bothering you. If you need more information, or feel you don’t fully understand the issue – say so! Ask for help or outline to others how you are going to get that information. If you feel the timing is too early to commit – say so! Sometimes as a leader, you may hold information that others may not be privy to, however, when you can- be as transparent as you can. You may not be able to share everything –but what you can may help them feel less uncomfortable – or let them contingency plan for their project.

No one expects you to be perfect. We are human beings – ‘perfectly imperfect’ and generally just trying to do our best. I think you’ll be surprised how much grace people are willing to give you when you deliver the message with honesty, transparency and accountability. And I believe these traits are just as important as being known for as being competent and credible!

What do you think? Do you default to some of these traps too?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles.

MSBCoach is committed to partnering with leaders and teams to identify their True North.  One's true north includes living into your values, identifying what it means to you to be your authentic self, and practicing emotional intelligence.  Leadership, executive, and team coaching are effective ways to help leaders and their teams put these principles into practice.  We also offer engaging workshops in being an authentic leader, emotional intelligence, identifying your values, and many others.  You can check out our coaching processes and our list of workshops here.


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