Accept the Blame, Give Away the Praise

Photo by hobvias sudoneighm

During President Obama’s press conference yesterday, there seemed to be a recurring theme. It wasn’t the main point he was trying to make, I think, but I picked up on it nonetheless. Whenever he talked about an issue where he perceived there is a problem he said something along the lines of “the minority in the Senate is being stubborn,” which basically meant I heard him say “it’s not my fault, blame the Republicans.”

Whether or not it’s true that the Republicans in the Senate are just being stubborn and trying to drag things down is not what I’m most interested in. I’m not a huge fan of politics in general, but I am a fan of leadership and learning leadership lessons. And since the President is the most visible leader in our country, and possibly the world, I think we can learn significant leadership lessons from him.

What I saw him doing yesterday was blaming others for the country’s problems. I don’t think that’s good leadership. Again, it might be true that it’s someone else’s fault, but when you’re the leader and you blame someone else it comes across as immature to me.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins discussed this concept in what he calls the window and the mirror. According to his groups study, great leaders look in the mirror when there is a problem. They are the first to say “I was wrong” or “I could do a better job.” The reason for this is that ultimately the whole organization rises and falls on leadership on one level or another.

On the other hand, if there is praise to be given a leader should look out the window to the people in his¬†organization. When people praise great leaders respond by saying things like “I’ve got a great team” or something similar. This shouldn’t be done with false humility, but it’s an honest assessment of the situation. Without a great team a great leader won’t accomplish much.

It was a good reminder to me that it’s easy to slip into the opposite attitude. When things aren’t going well we point the finger to blame someone else. We’ve been doing this as humans for a long time. But when things are going well our egos tend to puff up and we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to.

So, accept the blame but give the praise away. It’s the best way to lead others.