From the Principal

Who’s to bless and who’s to blame?

We all stuff up sometimes. We stuff up as people, as professionals, as parents and in just about every facet of life. That’s being human.

I think it’s what we do next that counts!

We tell our children that it is right to accept responsibility for our actions and live with the consequences.

It’s about learning. It’s about growing. We expect and respect students to be honest. We tell them that acknowledging wrongdoing is important. And then, we turn on the television and see reality kick our good advice “into the long grass”.

“Leaders”, politicians, business leaders etc. with an arsenal of weasel words, spin, blame-shifting, flick-passing and obfuscation appear before us with monotonous regularity.

Some leaders behave as though leadership means never having to say you’re sorry. Maybe they love us because…

Leaders are motivated—and pressured!—to be right. But perfection is not an option. This means that leaders have to consider not just how to get things right but also how to restore trust and recover after their blunders. When our situation is perilous, the tendency to look for someone to blame becomes more powerful.

“Often enough leaders can find ways to ignore their mistakes or otherwise blame others or justify their actions. It comes with the territory. Being in charge usually means having the power to say what counts as a success and what counts as a failure and to say who is responsible for each.”
How the Best Apologies Are Made, Deloitte Centre for Ethical Leadership.

People duck responsibility for reasons ranging from simple laziness or a fear of failure through to a sense of feeling overwhelmed by the scale of a problem or a situation. There is a logic to the desire to avoid punishment for mistakes but we need to “grow out” of this habit.

Get it right or get it wrong, being a responsible and trustworthy person means taking responsibility. To thrive as an adult, we need to take responsibility for our actions. We need to own the consequences for the things we do and don’t do. When finally cornered some will offer what is best labelled a non-apology: A non-apology apology, sometimes called a nonpology, backhanded apology, or fauxpology, is a statement in the form of an apology that does not express remorse. It is common in politics and public relations. Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” to someone who has been offended by a statement is a non-apology apology.

And using that tactic makes sure that any vestiges of trust have “just left town.”

In this environment, we need to be able to tell when we are being lied to and this is a skill we hope to pass on to our students so that this practice becomes not less odious but less effective.

In a world where the internet and its various chatrooms act as megaphones for opinions masquerading as facts, we need to be able to tell the truth from distortion, false logic and outright self-serving lies. These platforms allow conspiracy theorists to bark at the moon while attracting the confused and gullible—keyboard warriors spotting venom and lies without any sense of responsibility for the damage they do.

People who shirk responsibility for their actions and inactions are doomed to eventually lose trust with employers, electors and friends, and even more importantly, they will never learn from their mistakes.

Is refusing to take responsibility and always looking for someone else to blame to cover our faults the lesson we want our children to learn from adult behaviour?

Signs Someone is Not Being Responsible

  • Constantly blaming others for mistakes and failures.
  • Missing deadlines, appointments etc.
  • Avoiding challenging tasks and projects where they might fail.
  • Regularly complaining about unfair treatment and engaging in self-pity.
  • Making excuses regularly “It’s not my fault,” or, “That’s unfair.”

And if you are going to really apologise, there is a relatively simple way of doing it properly. An apology checklist goes like this:

  • Express regret. (“I’m sorry.”)
  • Explain, but don’t excuse.
  • Acknowledge responsibility.
  • Show why this won’t happen again.
  • Offer a way to repair and/or reconcile.
  • Ask for forgiveness.

A Big Question:

As a leader, should I apologise when I stuff up? Won’t an apology damage my credibility and make me look foolish? Well, the research says that the opposite can happen—acknowledging your mistake can actually increase your credibility and trustworthiness.

Yes, real responsibility can actually work in your favour.

Want to share your thoughts on this story, or do you have something you’d like to add? Email me at principal@scas.nsw.edu.au

Related posts
From the Principal

What it takes to be the best

From the Principal

Education, the top concern for Australians

From the Principal

Trajectory

From the Principal

The Peer Effect