Yes, there are only four!

In 2017, I wrote “The Year of Accountability”, where I presented Tip #5. I am not certain that I had clarity around what that may have looked like.

Invest in Accountability: Be resolved in committing the time and resources in a system and culture of accountability. Not all managers are equipped to hold people accountable in a manner that creates positive results. An investment in time, energy, training, and resources may be needed. 

After not only being a student of, but also collaborating with Erik Berglund, Founder and CEO of the Language of Leadership, I have much more clarity around this tip.  

Erik has developed a curriculum that is easy to digest and actionable. In addition to eLearning, private company-wide initiatives, and his coaching academy where participants practice the verbiage, tone, and approaches in leadership, he developed an eBook, The 4 Excuses and How to Deal with Them.  

Erik's approach to leadership development is oriented around answering the question, “What the heck do I say?”

  • What do I say when someone is not accountable? 
  • What do I say when they have repeatedly failed in the same ways? 
  • What do I say to help them develop talent, commitment, skill, etc.? 
  • In addition, what do I say when they keep making excuses?

This is the area where most leaders (new and experienced) struggle, but they do not know how to voice it and feel an obligation to ‘figure it out’. The Language of Leadership is a leadership system that helps leaders know what to say and how to say it so they can be an effective leader. It helps leaders learn and practice the skills required to perform at a high level as a leader. 

There are many circumstances where Erik’s Language of Leadership approach is appropriate. From our coaching and development of our teams, day-to-day operations, and even our ability to hold people accountable to the application of training in our workplaces, I found myself particularly fascinated with his approach and lessons regarding excuses. He equates an excuse to a “curveball” for leadership.  

I realized that many of us make excuses, even as leaders:  

  • I do not have time.
  • I have 1,000 emails.
  • I am doing everything.  

If these sound familiar, harnessing the power and practicing the Language of Leadership, can help us build capable and accountable teams.  

Then I realized that it might be that many of us are getting so many excuses by the day, or by the hour, they are so fast, so commonplace, we do not even see them as excuses.  

  • I did not have time. 
  • I will do it now.
  • It is a challenging customer. 
  • Joe did not follow my directions. 
  • They never called me back. 

This is also what I found many of us doing, including me and some of the best leaders I know. This may be the worst excuse offense, which corrodes the progress of building highly accountable teams. Leaders start making excuses for everyone. In our restoration companies, we become close and like family and it sometimes seems easier to make an excuse for those we care about rather than hold them accountable. 

Please note that holding others accountable is not always in a negative context. Effectively responding to and managing excuses is not about yelling or having an intense conversation. The 4 Excuses and How to Deal with Them will show the way. As a leader, the excuses we make for others may sound like:

  • They have their hands full.
  • Joe was out late last night. 
  • They do not know how to do that.
  • Jane probably just forgot.

I asked Erik Berglund to share with us more on Excuses

Why do we tend to make excuses?

Excuses are a natural human phenomenon. We all make them under times of stress and pressure. Some people make more than others, sure, but it is extremely common for a professional (who tells themselves they do not make excuses) to go home from work and make excuses for not doing the dishes, spending time with their kids, etc. We all do it. 

I have found that when we recognize this as something we all do, it makes it easier to see them for what they are in that moment. I can relate. The other person (the one making the excuses) is floundering. They are struggling. They are confronted (internally or externally) with something that makes them uncomfortable and they are trying to wiggle out of it.

In order to ‘wiggle’ out of the situation, the excuse maker needs to ‘hijack’ the conversation – to get you talking about something completely different from the real issue. So, when you confront them about not doing XYZ thing, they say, “But Bob never sent me what he was supposed to!” and now you're either off to talk to Bob or you're debating with them about how hard they tried to get the thing from Bob. 

This is unproductive and aggravating, and the excuse maker gets ‘off the hook,’ and you have potentially forgotten exactly what it was you were trying to accomplish. 

We make excuses because we do not want to confront our own failures/shortcomings and so that we can get out of the conversations we do not want to have.

How were you able to develop The 4 Excuses?

First, I lived through all of these excuses and was constantly frustrated by them. As I led a sales team for a decade, I heard every excuse under the sun. (Salespeople are excellent at excuses!) It was not until I left that role and began coaching leaders through The Language of Leadership that I detected a pattern. 

A leader of a non-profit was hearing the exact same excuses I heard. A leader in IT in Toronto had people saying, word for word, the same things as my people in the Pacific Northwest. It turns out, excuses sound the same no matter what role, title, geography or business type they stem from. 

As I would work with leaders, we would focus on “what am I going to say when I hear x (excuse)”, and so we started to build out a framework for handling excuses, and the concept of ‘curveballs’ was born. I called them curveballs because this pitch is designed to hijack the batter’s eyes and muscle memory, so that they swing at empty air. That is what an excuse does – it hijacks the conversation, so the leader is frazzled and turned around and confused and flustered. 

I built out a quick talk track for ‘curveballs’ and recognized there were only a few different things people were hearing. 

I continue to hunt for a fifth excuse, but I have yet to hear anything that does not fit into these four. 

Based on your expertise, why do even those in a leadership position make excuses for others?

I think most leaders do this unintentionally and out of a place of grace and understanding. It is well-intentioned, thoughtful, and nice. In reality, these excuses sabotage the leader, infantilize the employees and erode accountability and culture in organizations. 

These excuses tend to sound like 

  • “I know you did this because of ....”
  • “You probably forgot....”
  • “I know it's been a hectic week.”
  • “I know this is a tough client...”

And all those things might be true. A responsible leader is aware of the difficulties in front of their people and wants to have some grace for them. There is a better way to help them through the difficulties, but the leader has to be willing – have the courage and conviction – to lead through them. It will be uncomfortable (that is a natural byproduct of failure), but excellent leaders will bear short-term discomfort for long-term success in the job and relationships. 

It has to do with being kind, not nice. 

A nice boss will let someone fail repeatedly, making excuses for them and accepting their excuses, until one day, that person is fired or laid off. That person has not been pulling their weight, performing well, or growing, but they have felt warm and comfortable in their little bubble. The reality of their lack of performance will surface one day and surprise them, because they felt as if they had a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card. The employee feels this way not because of a lack of their own understanding but because of the continued reassurance from their leader that the exact thing that gets them fired wasn't that big of a deal. 

The Kind boss is willing to have the hard conversations, because he or she wants that person to keep growing and performing and is willing to bear short-term pain rather than put the employee in the position above. They recognize that underperformance, incompetence, bad attitudes, poor habits, misconceptions, and every other challenge the employee faces need to be overcome at some point, or that person probably will not be able to stay employed for long. They genuinely care more about the person long-term and are willing to fight for them. 

May responding with The Language of Leadership help you with “curveballs”, excuses, build highly accountable teams, and bring you much continued Restoring Success.