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How To Take Ownership When You Get Blamed?


Are you being told something is your fault? Do you feel blamed or shamed for current or past circumstances? Your instinct is likely to make excuses or justify outcomes.  Blaming anything, including a bad economy or bad employees, is a dangerous place for aspiring leaders. It is a trap. Instead of taking the bait, tell those blaming you, “that is the point.” Embrace everything is your fault.  You own it all!

I am the leader, and I am responsible for everything that happens – the good and the bad – and yes, this is my fault. -Jocko Willink

Once you acknowledge this reality, you can move forward. You can start proactive problem-solving and search for solutions. According to Ryan Holiday, ego is the enemy. It is challenging to combat our ego. Some say it is painful. It feels terrible when others point that finger of blame at us.  

Richard Nicastro says it has a name: it is a “game” in the sense that we can get so caught up in blaming others for something that has happened or what we do not like in our lives that we distract ourselves from where our responsibility lies. When you are the leader, accept it and own it. Stop rationalizing excuses and stop accepting excuses. Move forward. You own it.

Blame from your boss can be horrible. You instinctively want to deflect the blame or deny ownership. Resist the temptation of the fragile ego. Give yourself a higher reputation and take more ownership. When you take ownership of other’s mistakes, you look more prominent in the mind of others, including the boss. You are exercising a power move. I will take care of it sounds intense. It is her fault, says weakness.

In his book The Forgiving Self, psychoanalyst Robert Karen describes blame as “absorbent.” “It soaks up sadness,” he writes. “It dries the tears. It provides an opportunity and a target for fury which is felt as preferable to experiencing pain or loss.”

When you side-step blame by ignoring it, you gain leverage. You dissolve the power blame creates in your life. In some cases, you deserve the bitter taste of blame. Accept it and commit to learning from the experience. Admitting fault does not make you appear weak. Instead, it shows maturity, courage, and self-awareness. Avoid shifting blame. 

You may not be the only person to blame in each situation. There may have been other contributors. However, the wise response is to focus on yourself and your actions. Even if others do not own up to their mistakes, you will have accepted your wrongdoings. Do not postpone taking ownership. Waiting to see how things happen is not an effective strategy. As soon as things start looking bad, own your responsibility, and you can move forward with a solution. Communicate with those affected and admit your mistakes early. You look strong!

You will only postpone problems if you deflect ownership. The truth gets discovered eventually. Remember, “the truth is just a shortcut to what’s going to happen anyway.” Others will figure out you had the chance to step up when you did not. Sharing blame with others may sound tempting because there is safety in numbers. Others, including your boss, will eventually determine that you prefer to share your responsibilities with others. Again, you look weak.

The root word in responsibility is a response. You can respond in a difficult situation. If your child is your responsibility, you respond to her needs. If she is hungry, you can feed her. It is your responsibility, and you own it.

Another weak move is to play the victim. Victim mentality is an exaggerated sense of sorrow over one’s own life, roles, or circumstance. We can all experience it, but for some, it is a toxic habit. Like any self-defense mechanism, it can ease the pain and make us feel safe. However, it causes more damage than the pain hides.

Self-pity becomes your oxygen. But you learned to breathe it without a gasp. So, nobody even notices you’re hurting.” ― Paul Monette

Self-pity is easily the most destructive of narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” – John Gardner

Victimhood gets you stuck. Placing blame on others, the past, or on society is paralysis. You give control of your situation to others. When you are a victim, everything looks different. You have become blind to the problems of others and their challenges. You overdose on the very narcissism that places you at the center of the universe. All you see are the surrounding problems. You maintain a child’s mindset, and you feel defenseless. You hide behind the costumes of a self-fulfilling prophecy that the world is out to get you. Availability bias makes you see what you are looking for as the victim.

Self-pity is spiritual suicide. It is an indefensible self-mutilation of the soul.” ― Anthon St. Maarten

Self-pity takes you from feeling like a victim to becoming one. It becomes dangerous when you expect someone else to rescue you from your creation of reality. It becomes a habit, just like negativity. That is another discussion for a different day.

Psychologists call this locus of control. When you have an internal locus of control, you have higher levels of personal responsibility. You take ownership of your decisions, hold yourself accountable for your actions, work hard for the things you want. You enjoy better health, have lower stress levels, and are less likely to be overweight. You achieve more goals, have increased confidence and self-esteem.

On the other hand, when you have an external locus of control, you blame external factors for your circumstances. You start seeing other people (or things) as reasons for not achieving your own goals. You are influenced by other people, feel caught up in the flow of life, and feel powerless to change. Likewise, you feel hopeless when faced with difficult choices or situations.  You suffer from more preventable health issues, lead a sedentary lifestyle, and are prone to anxiety and stress. You tend to feel unsure about yourself and your abilities, and you are less likely to strive for the things you want in life.  

Taking ownership means noticing your blaming tendencies.  When someone blames you, acknowledge the part you played in the situation.  Stop complaining as an automated response.  Make taking ownership the automated response of your leadership tendencies.  Practice saying it is my fault.  It is always my fault.

Take back your power and look for solutions.  When you hold yourself accountable for reality, you are more likely to take ownership of your own actions. You build a sense of accountability to yourself. Being accountable to others can also provide additional support during tough situations, by ensuring you do not fall back into previous behavior patterns.  If you need more help, join an accountability group to remind and keep you on track.