Most people in the Northeast weren’t nervous about last week’s Tropical Storm Isaias—it definitely didn’t garner the dire warnings that have come in the past for the many bigger storms that have hammered the Caribbean and US coast throughout the years. Yet that is exactly what Isaias did when it reached New England—hammered us with heavy winds and tornados. In some towns in my home state of Connecticut, 98% of the residents and businesses lost power and hundreds of streets throughout the state had to be closed due to downed trees and wires and other damage.
Days later, many still did not have power or Internet…streets remained blocked by tree limbs…and the public was increasingly restless and frustrated. So Connecticut Governor Lamont did what we see so many leaders do lately—he placed blame.
In a futile attempt to look like he was taking action, Governor Lamont announced that he would open an investigation into why Eversource, the electric company responsible for the vast majority of electricity in Connecticut, was so unprepared for the devastation and seemingly had no plan in place for the cleanup.
When in doubt, blame someone else.
Here’s my question: If I checked the governor’s schedule a week or so before the storm hit—when weather reporters were already forecasting the direction of the storm—would I find that he had reviewed a plan of action and discussed contingencies with the utility company…and the companies responsible for clearing downed trees…and any other groups involved in post-emergency cleanups? That’s what true leaders do. They prepare beforehand rather than blame after the fact. Somehow, I’m thinking that the conversation didn’t happen. Oops!
There is someone at Bottom Line who we call the “queen of the warnings.” We tease her about them because she is so incredibly persistent and organized—ensuring that everyone is prepared for the possibility of power outages, weather problems and other emergencies. Most times, we don’t have a problem and the warnings are for naught. But for times like now, when emergencies do hit us, we all thank our lucky stars that Kelli is in control of the organization’s master workings because no one misses a beat. We all have our contingencies and have communicated them to one other.
To take a quote out of context from an article in Psychology Today, “Blaming others may work in the short term, but it is powerfully disempowering.”
Yes—it is. But while the article’s author states that blaming works in the short term, I disagree. It’s not working…it’s not doing anything.
The governor’s blame game did nothing to help people get their electricity back or return to work or prevent them from throwing away hundreds of dollars of ruined groceries because refrigerators and freezers weren’t working. It was merely noise…and now taxpayer money will be wasted on an “investigation” when what was actually needed was leadership and management…and communication. Have the conversation beforehand to prepare and another one after the fact if the service provider fails to provide the service. Then make some kind of change.
Governor Lamont’s actions stand in stark contrast to Steve Kelley, a self-made businessman who I had interviewed last week. Steve’s book, Break the Curse profiles his evolution from abused child to successful businessman, professor, mentor and family man. The book is filled with countless gems about leadership and human relationships, but the theme that runs through every page and every sentence is the absolutely vital importance of taking responsibility for everything in your life.
Why? Because it puts you in control of your life. Without it, you’re a victim.
Steve gives examples of situations where others would have puddled into self-pity, yet he faced the demons and came out stronger. In one case, he lost everything in an electrical fire in his home. One could say that it was an accident…or that the electrician made an error. But Steve realized that he also could have been more aware of the annual maintenance that needed to be done on the system given its unique location at the shore.
Similarly, rather than play victim to a painful divorce, he took responsibility for his participation in the marriage and its demise, which created a pathway for a very successful second marriage.
Steve’s logic applies to pretty much any situation. Don’t like your job? You chose it. By blaming the boss or coworker or company policies for your misery, you remain stuck. By being responsible, you can change your behavior or relationships or choose to find a different job.
Have friends who let you down? Pick different friends. Was your home robbed or your car stolen? You could have put an alarm on the house or parked the car in a safer place.
Even seemingly impossible situations can be shifted. While you can’t change bad parents, you can change your perspective about them and stop blaming them for your problems. Steve even “took responsibility” when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Rather than play victim, he took the position of hope and success, and he has far outlived his doctors’ predictions.
It’s tempting to push back on the above with situations that are “impossible” to take responsibility for such as acts of God or getting a “lemon” of a car. But as difficult as it may be to acknowledge, there are always different choices that could have been made or that can be made going forward to put yourself back into control.
No one can control the path of a storm, but you can choose to live in an area that is less prone to such storms…or have backup plans for where to shelter safely when a storm comes along. And Governor Lamont certainly could have had a meeting to review the plans for emergency storm damage.
How do you make this shift?
Step #1: Pay attention throughout your days, and see where you place blame and how it makes you feel. It’s important to see your own weakness.
Step #2: When something does happen, ask yourself, What could I have done differently to change the outcome? Or What can I do differently that will change my relationship to this situation and put me more in control of it? Then make a plan of action that resolves the current problem or prevents a similar one in the future.
Step #3: Be willing to admit your errors. It’s embarrassing to realize when we truly have made a mistake…and our pride may prevent us from publicly acknowledging it. So instead we make excuses and lay blame. Acknowledging your own errors opens the path to different results in the future.
These seem like three “simple” steps, but it’s actually not easy to make such a deep shift. Allowing others to “take the hit” for a bad situation is tempting and seems easier…but owning it yourself is far more satisfying in the long run.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.