Breaking News: Nobody Cares that it’s Not Your Fault

The scene was pure IKEA carnage.

Armed with an Allen wrench, I waded into the piles of twisted metal and splintered wood. Dr. Destructo had struck again! (Dr. Destructo is my three year old godson. Everyone with a three year old boy in their lives understands why this nickname is being used to protect the guilty.)

This little ball of energy had jumped on the top bunk of his cousin’s bed and the whole situation came crashing down to the floor. When the smoke cleared there was one broken bed and two kids in trouble, BOTH the Dr. and his cousin, Pinkie.  Destructo for causing the damage and Pinkie for standing by silently and letting it happen.

“It’s not my fault!”

You can imagine that was Pinkie’s defense. It didn’t work for her and trust me, it won’t work for you at your job.

When a problem arises nobody cares that it’s not your fault. You are expected to take responsibility for any part that you played in the fiasco and then get busy fixing the issue. It’s not fair, but it’s true.  Ask any airline gate agent after flights are cancelled due to weather issues. Ask anyone who has ever worked in customer service.  Ask any CEO (today’s CEOs have the worst job security, there are too many ways to let people down).

If you are looking to demonstrate that you are a leader, that you are ready for the next opportunity, you will never do it with a “not my fault” attitude. In this results oriented world, nobody is looking for a chief excuse officer. The best candidate for any job at any level is the one that will take ownership.  And the same goes for entrepreneurs.  If you are in business for yourself, never forget that what you are really selling is a SOLUTION to somebody’s problem –  your clients have no trouble getting excuses for free.

What can you do when facing a situation that honestly isn’t your fault?

1. Protect your Reputation

Your reputation is your most powerful weapon.  When people trust you, they are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt even when you make a mistake. However, if you are known to be a finger pointer, someone that plays the blame game even when you are a fault, you my friend are taking a terrible risk. Not only is it highly likely that the truth will eventually come out, but more importantly, your credibility may never recover.  So, whenever you are guilty of contributing to a problem – admit it and face the consequences.  With a track record for honesty, it is then much easier to convince people when things aren’t your fault.

2. C.Y.A. – Cover Your (ummm…) Actions

Now, listen to this part very carefully.  Taking ownership for a problem does not mean confessing to someone else’s sins! It is very important that you help the Powers-That-Be understand that you are not the culprit, but you can’t do it in a whiny way.   The key is to make a clear distinction between what caused the issue and your actions.  Share:

  • What I Saw – Describe what you believe caused the issue.  Try to avoid giving names and using blaming words.
  • What I Did – Talk about your actions once you learned of the problem.  Remember what we said in point #1, now would be a good time to admit to any fault.
  • What I Think – Give a few ideas on how to resolve the current issue and/or solutions for how these types of problems can be avoided in the future.

3.  If You See Something, Say Something

It is so easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback and dissect the issue after it has happened.  To be a “Not My Fault” ninja, you need to master the art of noticing the signs as a problem is arising.  Have you read about a recent regulatory change that could cause concern?  Did you overhear a bit of gossip that may impact approval of the project?  Does it look like an important deadline will be missed?  This isn’t about snitching on your colleagues, instead you should be focused on keeping your manager/client aware of information that can impact success.


If you keep these three points in mind you will find that the way you handle problems will set you apart from your peers and competitors.

As for Pinkie, she had a few nights sleeping on the floor to learn these lessons the hard way.


CC image courtesy of gabaus on Flickr

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  1. Quigley

    I once had a manager who, upon hearing my explanation that it wasn’t my fault, responded back “It isn’t your fault, but it is YOUR problem. So what are you going to do about it?!??” When it hits the fan, moving past what happened (and why) and moving to what we’re going to do about it is critical. And, for me, it separates the leaders from the rest of the pack.

    • TerraWinston

      That’s the absolute truth. It’s easy to keep composure and appear competent when everything is going well. The people that stand up and HANDLE things are the ones that are celebrated and sought out!


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