Victim mentality can paralyze the best organizations”Nine-tenths of life's serious controversies come from misunderstanding." --Louis Brandeis

Last time, we discussed how to create a culture of accountability. In our discussion of this subject, we’ve ranged from the baseline of personal accountability to a broader organizational culture of accountability, to the battle-tested power of after action reviews. So, if the power of an accountable organization is so obvious, why aren’t we all doing it?

In “The Oz Principle,” a book by Craig Hickman (recently reissued in a revised and updated edition 10 years after its original publication), the overgrown roots of a victimization mentality is chronicled as one of the most corrosive forces in American business.  Mr. Hickman pulls no punches in deriding the plight of victimization that he believes has a stranglehold on American industry.

How many of these lines have you heard during your business career?

“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

“That’s not my department.”

“Someone should have told me not to do that.”

“Why didn’t you ask me?”

“Nobody’s followed up on this. It can’t be that important.”

It’s fodder for a Saturday Night Live skit, isn’t it? And yet these excuses are so inculcated into the fabric of business organizations that the “who-done-it” definition of accountability often reigns supreme. Careful observers will note that the “who-done-it” syndrome is but a bumbling stepchild of the “blame game,” a playbook that is most often seen when something goes wrong, usually at the expense of overlooking a solution.

In many ways, organizations have become more focused on explaining their results than actually achieving them. Instead of focusing on accountability as a tool to get things done with better results, we’ve asked people to account for what they’ve already done. As a result, we’ve fostered an “after-the-fact” mentality instead of a “before-it’s-too-late” application of accountability.

One of the subtle themes embedded in the “I’m a victim” mentality is that circumstances prevent people from realizing their dreams. The infamous f-word – it’s not “fair” – empowers frustrated employees to expect a certain standard of equity and creates a real barrier to achieving demonstrable results.

The Winter Olympic Games illustrated the peaks and valleys of the blame game. Some unsuccessful athletes blamed the weather, the start times, the course and the judges. Others, like Apolo Anton Ohno, were clear in accepting the volatility and unpredictability of short track, embracing the good and the bad that naturally beset that sport. While uncontrollable forces are legitimate distractions, blaming them for our lack of success deflects our focus from the commitment and perseverance required for success.

“The Oz Principle” encourages taking responsibility for our own actions … and accountability for the actions of the teams on which we serve. Below the accountability line are the many excuses we hear every day from victims who do not own up to their responsibilities, which Mr. Hickman organizes into six familiar categories:

Cover Your Tail

Finger Pointing

Wait & See

Ignore / Deny

Confusion – Tell me what to do next

It’s not my job

All of us will find ourselves below the accountability line from time to time, but when we recognize that we’re falling below it, we must take ownership of our actions. Mr. Hickman’s approach to get out and stay out of the blame game are summarized by See it – Own It – Do It – Solve It.

It’s inevitable that we’ll return to these themes periodically since they represent the most vexing challenge faced by business leaders today – how to eradicate the victim mentality in their organizations and install a culture of accountability that will not only help them avoid dropping the ball – but ensure that when it falls, everyone will be diving to catch it.



Lary Kirchenbauer is the president of Exkalibur Advisors Inc., providing practical business strategies for family and other privately owned businesses in the middle market. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses at the intersection of leadership and business strategy. Lary also hosts a CEO Round Table for leaders of middle market companies in the North Bay. Please visit www.exkalibur.com for a library of valuable resources, articles and insights or join the Exkalibur fan page on Facebook.

Webinar on creating 'culture of accountability'

Lary Kirchenbauer will present with SuccessFactors the Webinar “Are the Right Things Getting Done? Creating a Culture of Accountability” at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 10.

It is free of charge. To register, go to www.successfactors.com/promo/webinars/?event_id=900976113.