Saturday, February 21, 2009

The beauty of blame-busting

In his 2001 book "Beyond Success," author Brian Biro, a former swimming coach who for the last 20 years has consulted with CEOs and other leaders, has a good section devoted to "blame busting."


Many believe that "friendship" is simply doing nice things for others. True friendship, though, is much, much more. Often, it requires courage: asking the tough question and risking a defensive or angry reaction.

Sometimes, it means you continue to look for the qualities you respect in others despite their occasional failure to live up to their own standards.

The first step in being a true friend is "blame busting." One of the most destructive and disabling symptoms of disease within an organization or human spirit is the prevalence of blame. Like a parasite, blame latches on from the inside and begins to eat away at the spirit.

When we blame others, we give up our greatest strength -- our own sense of responsibility. True leaders seek constantly to give credit to others and to take responsibility for giving their absolute best. They are eager to step forward and be accountable for the setbacks and difficult times because they know this will stimulate their own solution orientation while easing debilitating pressure from their team. Within this mind-set, blame simply has no place.

Blame is particularly crippling because it directs our focus to the past. Its aim is to protect egos, not to build the team. Even if blame is justified, it serves no constructive purpose. When we are filled with a sincere attitude of friendship, our positive belief in others leads us continuously forward to solutions, not backward to blame. We see the potential to solve even the most difficult challenges because we focus on the possibility in our teammates instead of on the limitations.

John Wooden was known as a very disciplined coach. He set high standards of conduct for his players, both on and off the court. Yet, as the years went by, he had very few rules. If a player broke one of these regulations, he was disciplined and corrected, then welcomed back one hundred percent.

Coach Wooden held no grudges. A fresh start was not conditional; there were no probationary periods required to earn back full status. Coach Wooden's discipline was based on respect and friendship. He looked at his players the same way he looked at friends and family, holding high expectations for them and treating them accordingly, with dignity and respect.

He never lost sight of his own fallibility and consequently was able to see mistakes as temporary errors in judgment, not permanent flaws in character. Operating from this foundation in friendship, it is easy and natural to fully forgive.

Coach Wooden's players and staff reponded to his humility and trust with extraordinary unselfishness and dedication of their own. Today, many years since his retirement, a remarkable number of them keep in close touch with him. It is one of the very special rewards of being a leader who refused to blame others and who constantly demonstrated sincere friendship and respect for people.

He was indeed a world-class "blame buster."