One of the most common behaviors I noticed among offenders in jail and in the prison system was their refusal to accept responsibility for their own behavior and instead focus upon the faults of others, their bad circumstances and upbringing, etc. I often asked them why they were in prison or jail and they would often begin their answer with “they say I robbed a bank” or
“I was set up for selling drugs by the cops” or something similar. I met very few “guilty” people in our corrections and jail facilities.
In dealing with errant employees I saw the same pattern of blame shifting. Most personnel and managers who got in trouble either flat out lied about their behavior or had an excuse for what they did, “the inmate made me so mad I had no choice but to hit him” or “things are so screwed up here I am right in cussing out the supervisor”, etc. In my career as head of an Internal Affairs Division – I only had one employee who actually came in and said, “I have no excuse for my behavior – what I did was foolish and wrong – I understand that it is going to cost me my job.” Fortunately after he said that, the paramedics were able to resuscitate me so I did not die of shock. HA! It is interesting that of all the men and women I disciplined as a manager – he was the only one I volunteered to write a letter of recommendation for another job.
As we reflect on these people we know that do this –let me remind you that we all come from the same gene pool as they – humans are wired to blame others for their problems. When Adam and Eve got in trouble – they started blame shifting and we as their descendants have never stopped doing it. I have an incredible ability to notice (and condemn) the behavior of everyone around us but see myself as a pretty good person. As a result of that, I spend entirely too much time noticing everyone else’s mistakes and seem to be totally blind to my own weaknesses and mistakes. This “sitting in judgment” of others in the agency, in my family, in political offices, etc. is foolish for several reasons.
First, I have NO ability to change others, or the situations in Congress, or whatever – so I am frustrated and upset over things I cannot really change. Secondly, this focus upon what is wrong with those around me makes me more likely to not deal with the only person or situation I can change – ME! I think if we are honest, the people who complain the most are not only the most miserable, but the least likely to change or be teachable.
As managers, employees, as spouses, as parents and other various roles we have in life – we need to fight this natural temptation to spend all of our emotional energy and thoughts focusing on how everyone in the world is screwed up – but us. I know that it is the likely the number one reason managers fail to be leaders – we cannot be a leader if we are not “leading by example” by bringing our own behavior and attitudes under control.
The most common comment I get while doing leadership training is “I agree with what you said today – it is too bad my boss was not here!’ It is no wonder leadership training is rarely successful – we see everyone else as failing to practice leadership but do not see our own failure as severely or at all. This tendency to focus on others also feeds our natural inclination towards pride – and increases our critical and unforgiving spirit. No one who fails to tackle this perfectly human trait will ever be a leader – or a great husband or parent.
Most of us have heard the expression, “we have met the enemy – and it is us.” I ask you to change that to “we have met the enemy – and it is me.” All the great leaders I have been exposed to have reworked their thinking to take 100% ownership for their own behavior which gives them the right to lead.
It is a battle that they will fight for their entire lives – but because they do they possess the most rare and likely the most charming human behavior – humility. They not only consistently work on being a better person but their struggle also makes them more tolerant of others’ failures. As a result, they positively impact those around them – both at work and at home. Basically fight the chief and most dangerous enemy you will ever face – your own pride and behavior. Most of us fail to do that – and that is why we fail as leaders.
Jack Enter began his law enforcement career in 1972. Since that time, he has worked as a street police officer, detective, vice/narcotics investigator, and as the administrator of a law enforcement agency in the suburbs of Atlanta. Jack obtained his Ph.D. in 1984 and has served as a professor and administrator in the university setting and served as one of the planners of the security component of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. He has lectured throughout the United States and abroad. He published his first book: Challenging the Law Enforcement Organization: Proactive Leadership Strategies in 2006.