Strategy & LeadershipBoardroom RelationshipsThe culture blame game – why taking responsibility is essential

The culture blame game - why taking responsibility is essential

There is a strange notion that culture is a ‘fluffy’ non-specific thing that can easily slip down an agenda as it could be tricky to define. Many organisations struggle with understanding that culture is the essence of who you are and what you stand for and is underpinned by a specific set of values. It’s not simply an ‘add on’ or afterthought but is detrimental to an organisation’s performance.

Culture precedes results

A strong leadership culture informs every interaction, at all levels within an organisation. How many times have you either witnessed, or been subjected to finger pointing when things haven’t gone quite as planned? The blame game is played by people in the business environment (and indeed all walks of life) when individuals fail to take responsibility. It may be dressed up as an aggressive leadership style, but behind the veneer is a fear of failure and an inherent insecurity.

Sum of separate parts

There’s no denying that an organisation’s greatest asset is its people. They bring a business to life and they embody the organisational culture. However, it’s also clear to see the huge gap that exists between teams that genuinely act as a collaborative body, and those who are disparate and favour individuals over the collective. In football our mantra was ‘nobody’s bigger than the team’ and that applies to all aspects of life.

When the competition steps up the cracks can easily become chasms because, the sum of separate parts is always weaker than a team of collaborators who share ideas and take equal responsibility for their part of the greater whole.

Setting the standard of performance

Leaders play a critical role in setting the standard of performance that is inherent in every organisational culture. This is the metaphorical flag that flies above your company to say, ‘we won’t compromise on these issues’. Upholding the standard is everything, because when you let something slip, you’re effectively undermining your own promise. So if you state that you’ll always be true to your word, then this means you have to meet a deadline if you promised it, because that’s what people expect from you.

Leaders who don’t have a clear standard of performance are inadvertently failing to take responsibility as they are swerving accountability. When the pressure is on, weak leaders often look to validate their own actions. They do so by reverting to ‘default’ and apportion blame elsewhere. This translates into a blame culture and not only causes resentment in the team but breeds a lack of trust.

A standard of performance is:

  • An operating philosophy that is central to a team culture
  • It’s not wallpaper – it’s DNA and it informs everything you do
  • Needs clear articulation and communication so everyone embodies it

The big ‘E’

There are a lot of egos in business.

Strong characters are essential in organisations, but egos that are allowed to go unchecked lead to what Pat Riley calls ‘the disease of me’, which puts personal gain over collective reward. Anyone who believes that they are at the centre of a team success is effectively saying ‘you can’t do this without me’. That’s a very dangerous attitude to have and will inevitably lead to factions that divide an organisation.

Leaders with disproportionate egos are often reluctant to delegate. In truth, the best leaders inspire and motivate their teams to grow and know when to step back and when to provide support. When talented people are under-utilised it is demotivating – establishing a plan to develop the team is essential for them to evolve and fulfil their potential.

Why take responsibility?

Taking responsibility is at the heart of a winning mindset and is critical to performance. It’s important to take responsibility to:

  • Ensure a collaborative approach that looks out for the greater good
  • Create a learning environment that turns mistakes into opportunities
  • Model behaviour so others recognise that blame apportionment isn’t tolerated
  • Keep everyone motivated and energised
  • Value the role everyone plays, regardless of hierarchy

Those with winners’ mindsets recognise that they own their own standards as well as those of the team. Awareness is key in leadership and humility is a huge factor of strong cultures. Ultimately, when everyone takes responsibility for their own behaviours and actions, it enables trust, honesty and authenticity to thrive.


Pete Lowe is the founder of Macclesfield-based training and performance enterprise First Team Ltd. Pete spent 13 years at Manchester City FC in the dual role of coach and Head of Education and Performance Management.

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