Two Questions that Crackdown on Excuse Making
“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” Benjamin Franklin
An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.
Excuse-makers beguile naive leaders into expressing sympathy.
Leaders who tolerate blame-throwing excuse-makers:
- Allow low performers to luxuriate and stagnate in mediocrity.
- Validate helplessness.
- Hold the wrong people accountable.
- De-energize high performers.
- Increase stress and frustration.
Excuse-makers promote, prolong, and propagate poor performance. Every sentence that begins with an excuse is an invitation to affirm weakness and validate poor performance.
Excuse-makers wallow in:
- Past failure. History repeats itself until you own it.
- Escalating mediocrity. All excuse-makers under-value imperfect action.
- Expanding blame. Everyone who plays the blame game habitually relies on it, until someone confronts them.
Excuses are the reason careers get stuck, life is on hold, and relationships grow dissatisfying.
Excuse or explanation:
Eliminate excuse-making by knowing the difference between excuses and explanations.
Excuse: “I was waiting for you to tell me what to do.” This means the failure is your fault. Sentences that begin with, “I was waiting,” always end with a reason why lack of performance was some else’s responsibility.
Explanation: “I felt uncomfortable seeking direction.” Explanations express ownership and enable course correction.
Two questions that maximize an explanation.
- What might I do to provide clarity next time?
- What might you do to seek clarity next time?
Two question that crackdown on excuse-making.
- What decisons did you make that led to this failure? (Sit quietly after asking this question.)
- What will you do differently next time? (Seek behaviors not ideas.)
Never make excuses for excuse-makers.
An excuse is the reason someone didn’t try. Confront failures of neglect, apathy, and inaction.
Curb excuse-making by honoring failures of energy, initiative, and effort.
What is the difference between an excuse and an explanation?
How might leaders model the way when it comes to accountability?
I just read today’s blog and yesterday’s on “excuses.” It appears you have little tolerance for those making excuses and are not holding back on this topic. You have some really good points. However, as someone who has both defended and investigated people who made mistakes and studies mistakes, I’m not convinced excuses are necessarily 100% (intentional) lies but often weak attempts to justify a particular mistake – but I could be wrong after reading your take on the situation. Let me know. I’ve always viewed “excuses” as either lies or poor attempts to explain and sometimes they are a combination of both. As leaders, we must foster an environment where those making mistakes are prepared to justify their mistakes without fear of repercussion, explain the reasons it occurred and share the lessons learned to avoid similar results in the future. And, more importantly as you suggest, leaders must be capable of eliminating excuse-making by knowing the difference between excuses and explanations. Many leaders do not know the difference. Thanks, Dan.
I like your comment.
My first thought when meeting with the title of this article was: “That’s aggressive, and stifling, and doesn’t take responsibility for a lack in mentorship.” There were some excellent points within the article, and I’m sad to see them lost to an off-putting title. “Break the Cycle of Making Excuses,” or “Guide Your Team Away From Making Excuses, Boost Communication,” would have won me instantly.
What is the difference between an excuse and an explanation? To me, an excuse is escaping out of something being done sub par thinking it’s acceptable. When someone tries to get by knowing there is a proper way but chose another path they will explain rather than make an excuse. granted there are times not every direction is wrong.
How might leaders model the way when it comes to accountability? We all need to be accountable for our actions, other people’s actions under our guidance require clarifications so things are done correctly, alleviating excuses for poor performance in doing tasks or projects. If we fail to “convey the proper expectations” we open up the door for excuses!
Dan when first starting out in public accounting
I was taught if you were in Anyway responsible for something you Are responsible so deal with it. Life and business are much easier with that approach.
This is really good Dan! Thank you for this post, it’s refreshingly simple and so true. There are many leaders that need to read this post and learn to ask the right questions.
I think your example of an explanation could also be a form of excuse. In my opinion an explanation was for something you legitimately thought you were doing correctly but an excuse is no accountability or drive to accomplish something correctly. With an excuse, you are trying to avoid any negative consequences.
The problem is that in huge stretches of the real world, “…Curb(ing) excuse-making by honoring failures of energy, initiative, and effort…” just does not happen. Not every organisation accepts failure as a good thing.
I hear a lot about honouring failure, but in practice lots of organisations don’t care how hard you tried, how much effort you put in or what you attempted. The only thing that matters is that you failed to do what you were supposed to do, cost profit and you will get nailed for it. The danger in an environment like this is that “honoring failures of energy, initiative, and effort” can be seen as making excuses!
That’s excactly what I was thinking when I read this article! In my opinion, when it comes to “honoring failures” (in general) differences between theory and real world couldn’t be any bigger.
What is the difference between an excuse and an explanation? Maybe it is this:
“He that humbles ‘him/herself’ when explaining is not making the excuse”.
When I have failed, I have felt bad about it; I own it, make the immediate attempt to correct it, or…seek counsel on how to best fix it.
Great topic yesterday and today. Thank you.
I heard somewhere that an accomplishment is fleeting, but a good excuse will last a lifetime!