It’s Not My Fault But it’s MY Problem!

Accountability Growth mindset Personal leadership


Key Point: If you want a simple and straight forward way of describing “leadership,” then embrace the title of this blog: “It’s not my fault but it’s MY problem.” This is the essence of the “self-accountability” leg of the Character Triangle. It is always refreshing and even inspirational when one runs into someone who leads themselves this way. And it’s a gateway for earning the ability to effectively lead others. You and I do NOT need a formal leadership role or title to think and behave like this. We just need to ignore fault or blame (which is different from the importance of determining root cause) AND take responsibility to work the problem confronting us. Could you imagine how much better customer service and life would be in the world if people consistently practiced this mantra?

You may or may not like Maureen Dowd‘s op-ed in the Sunday New York Times. It is usually entertaining if not right on point. This Sunday August 2, she reminded me of the importance of acting versus explaining and concludes her provocative column this way: 

“The Bushes did not want to be put on the couch, but the thin-skinned Obama jumped on the couch at his news conference, defensively whining about Republicans, Putin, Israel and Hamas and explaining academically and anemically how he’s trying to do the right thing but it’s all beyond his control.

Class is over, professor. Send in the President.” 

I remember a challenging situation in my career where I was positioned to lead, and for a variety of excuse driven reasons, I chose to explain more, rather than act more. I definitely did not cause a major problem in this Fortune 50 Company, but I certainly had a formal and informal mandate to lead. I missed an opportunity to step into a vacuum that was waiting for my strength of conviction and action. It took years and much personal reflection for me to understand that I chose to explain more than lead in that situation. I have taken that personal leadership lesson forward in everything I do. What the organization was saying to me at that time was (which I did not fully recognize): “Class is over… Send in the (LEADER).” Ouch! 

It may be unreasonable and perhaps even unfair that people (as Dowd painfully points out) want Barack Obama to lead more than explain. However, this is the essence of leadership and most of us respond and are inspired by those who lead themselves first by taking action to “work the problem.” We usually do not expect a “silver bullet” or even trust that Big Bang approaches are effective. But we typically rally around people who methodically and tenaciously move matters forward because of a self-declaration to “own” the challenge. When we explain while accelerating matters forward, it is understood as context. The height of the formal leadership perch is most often related to the complexity and difficulty of the problem. If you want to be a leader, practice taking on the little problems every day and eventually you will earn the privilege of leading on the big juicy ones. Unless you like to stop at, “it’s not my fault.”

Character Moves: 

  1. Think about whether you embrace the principle, “it’s not my fault but it’s my problem.” How much is this the guiding premise behind all you do? Or are you better at explaining to emphatically ensure people understand that “it’s not my fault and therefore it’s not my problem.” 
  2. Work it! Take a self-accountable approach to every problem. Ask yourself what you can do about it. As the self-accountable chapter in The Character Triangle emphasizes, it’s the “what, how, by when” response and action YOU personally take that makes the leadership difference. 
  3. Step into the void. Remember that timing is important too. There is an opportunity window as problems arise. Powerful leaders know how to fill that vacuum with confidence and assurance at the time others are on “stand-by.” Do you do that? 

It’s MY problem in the Triangle, 


One Millennial View: There’s nothing more disappointing than seeing a leader display a lack of action and instead point fingers… It seems almost cowardly. I love learning this lesson early. Thinking back to high school football, we’d talk about the type of people we wanted “in our foxhole.” You want to step into the huddle with people who attack the problem and derive a plan for a solution, not rely on another squad to get the job done. The office is no different than the gridiron or a foxhole in that regard. Let’s all make the problem ours despite what/who may be at fault, and win together. 

– Garrett Rubis 

Edited and Published by Garrett Rubis