How to lead… blamers

“It wasn’t me,” “I couldn’t help it,” “I tried to warn them, but they just wouldn’t listen to me!” It can be intensely frustrating when working with someone who passes the buck time and time again. “Blamers” as we’ll call them find it incredibly difficult to take responsibility for anything negative. They pass the buck, blame circumstances or try to disassociate themselves from their own actions. Blamers can often cause double the work too as not only do you have to deal with their attitude, you have to deal with the situation that’s gone wrong as well.

There are a number of reasons why people deny responsibility. It could be hard for them to separate their mistake from their self worth, believing that because they got it wrong it must mean they’re stupid or incompetent. It could be because they have been severely punished for mistakes in the past, or even have been told that it is a sign of weakness to apologise or accept responsibility. Whatever the reasons, the automatic reaction is usually to blame someone or something else.

So how do we deal with and lead people with a tendency to avoid saying sorry? The key to this is culture. Are we setting a culture in our teams, offices, youth clubs that heightens responsibility but eradicates blame? Is our personal behaviour conducive to ensuring people naturally own their decisions without fear of shame for any repercussions or mistakes? Are some tips for creating a blame free culture;

Never criticise the person only their behaviour.

It is important as leaders we set boundaries, and highlight to people when those boundaries have been crossed. Giving reprimands is part of this, however it must always be done to criticise behaviour, never a persons character. “You need to interact with the young people at youth club more,” is a lot different to, “your insecurities appear to be stopping you from talking to teens.”

Interrupt excuses.

Break the pattern of protestation by interrupting them if necessary. Stop them doing the blaming as they do it. Share how you’re not looking for blame in this conversation.

Don’t revisit old problems

Never revisit previous mistakes of your team members once they have been dealt with. These should only ever be bought up again during formal disciplinary procedures if their behaviour has warranted a formal warning, but even then they should be reminded of this sparingly.

Permit creative mistakes.

Don’t criticise people who fail for trying to pioneer new ways or further the teams vision. It is a natural part of leadership to try and to fail as it is from this that true creativity can flourish. Highlight the difference between poor performance and creative mistake. By all means, challenge inappropriate behaviour or lack of best practice, but allow errors of innovation to be praised not restricted.

Reflect regularly

In all you do, with individuals and with your team, review what you have been doing. Ask future-focussed questions like, “where could we have performed better?” Or, “if we were to do it again what would you do differently?” This shows to others that you value improvement. During these conversations, stamp out any hint of blame as it happens, instead get people to suggests prospective improvements.

Joel Preston

Joel Preston

Director at
Joel is the Director of Evangelism & Mission for British Youth for Christ. He had previously been involved in church-based youthwork for over 10 years and before that spent 4 years at a local Youth for Christ centre.

He specialises in delivering leadership and people management training in a ministry context and has taught for various organisations across the country, including SoulNet, Innovista, SWYM and Youthwork the Conference.
Joel Preston

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