The Blame Game by Ben Dattner with Darren Dahl (2011)

Fear — particularly of forces that we can’t see or completely understand — is a great motivator of scapegoating, and evolutionary psychologists and other commentators tell us that witch-hunts, metaphorically speaking, are hardly a thing of the past (p 37).

blamegameDattner, an organizational psychologist and consultant, explores the nature of blame and credit and how an unhealthy culture of blame can lead to a company’s failure. I believe public library cultures are particularly susceptible to the trappings the allow for assigning undue blame and neglecting to give earned credit. Why? Because our metrics for measuring success are often not clearly defined, if they exist at all. I’ve sometimes heard of success depending on the absence of an event. As in, if customers don’t complain or your branch isn’t drawing negative attention, then you are a successful branch manager.

Too many leaders miss the opportunities to identify and fix the real, but usually subtle and complex, causes of losses or failures. Scapegoating is a convenient way to increase cohesion in the short-term, but the first victims of scapegoating are rarely the last. Scapegoating anyone in an organization ultimately yields harmful social dynamics and cultural risks that threaten everyone (p 39).

In Chapter 3, “The Nurture of Credit and Blame,” Dattner touches on credit as a reward. For a more thorough understanding of rewards, read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. Dattner also mentions the great-expectations trap, a concept explored in the first chapter of NurtureShock titled “The Inverse Power of Praise.”

A good portion of the book outlines “the Big Five” personality types: Openness (to experience), Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Within these personality types, under the Impunitive subtype, Dattner points to Jim Collins’ description of the most effective and successful leaders (“Level 5 leaders”) describing them as “look in the mirror” types when things go wrong but when success is achieved, these leaders “look out the window” to their team (p 96).

This reminded me of the setter’s role on a volleyball team as described to me by my first coach, the great Jack Casteel. As an avid volleyball player, I often define people in my teams – sometimes without realizing it – as players on a volleyball court. The best teams have Level 5 setters. When a play is successfull executed, the hitter gets all the credit. When a play goes sour, the setter takes all the blame. The best setters can take a lousy pass and turn it into a perfect set (one that your hitter will kill, no matter what their skill level). This takes hustle. It’s hard to turn a bad pass into gold. It takes the complete understanding of your hitter. Each hitter likes the ball set differently (high, low, inside the court, out by the antena, quickly or with some air under it). A winning team has a selfless setter who constantly credits their passers (keep your passers happy because you need them). I was a setter so I know just how hard it can be.

A great setter will elevate a mediocre team to greatness, while a team of otherwise exceptional players will slump into mediocrity under a merely passable setter.

So what do you do when you notice an unhealthy amount of blame making its way around your workplace? Don’t engage!

Successful individuals focus less on the relative apportionment of blame and instead focus on fixing things in order to reduce the overall level of blame in their lives and careers (p 60).

Before ending, I’d like to share a little illustration that is amusing but, sadly, often true. A coworker brought it to my attention after she flipped through the book (she’s always peeking at the books I’m reading!).

management-flow-chartWhen top level guys look down, they see only shitheads; When bottom level guys look up, they see only assholes.

Follow up with:
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
 NurtureShock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert Sutton

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