I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership and its impact on our culture today. While I aim most of my thoughts at my teams I manage as a part of my career, it’s hard not to let those thoughts bleed into other aspects of my life as well. Parenting, coaching, politics, schooling, and even religion are all dealing with similar problems that seemingly root back to no-fault leadership.
What is no-fault leadership?
No fault leadership is when the leaders of a group or organization indicate that people are never at fault, instead it’s something about the processes or systems in place that cause the people to fail. The best I can tell is that this came from the “everyone who tries deserves a trophy” mentality that we have shifted into over the last 10-20 years. The culture in the United States continues to be on a path of least resistance, where anyone who has their feelings hurt, is always a victim and the person or system in place that made them feel this way is at fault. In some places, I’ve even seen that its simply leaders who refuse to manage team conflict properly, who also cause no-fault leadership by simply allowing both sides of the conflict to be “right”.
The first problem with no-fault leadership is that we are not encouraging people to take responsibility for their actions. If nobody is ever at fault, then it’s always the “system” or “situation” that was somehow broken or wrong. This is bad on both sides. It hurts our ability to grow through failure. It also hurts the systems we have in place that may be great systems, which we will now put under review and possibly even change them just so we don’t have to have people feel like they did something wrong.
No-Fault breeds entitlement
If nobody is ever at fault, then that means by simply trying to do what’s expected of you deserves reward. If everyone wins by trying it makes competition impossible. Without competition we can’t incentive hard work, and without the need to do hard work, everyone should be entitled to the same rewards. You can clearly mark a cause and effect pattern that is rooted in no-fault leadership. All cultures that incentivize mediocrity eventually fail because they stop growing, and evolving.
A Solution without finger-pointing
So the question remains, how can we avoid no-fault leadership without engaging a culture of finger pointing. Most of us know what it’s like to be in a group of finger-pointers. Its where everyone defensively moves blame off to somebody else by indicating what they did wrong. This can be very challenging to balance. It’s also something you learn as a skill over time, and by using your past experiences with groups and conflict management. Everyone wants simple 3 step process to solve there problems but some, if not most leadership issues simply require wisdom from past experience and when you don’t have that experience, the willingness to gather that knowledge from a mentor.
In order to balance the line between finger-pointing and no-fault leadership the key is to manage your groups expectations. This is the most critical part of leading your group into system that breeds trust, while engaging those employees in healthy competitive activities so that they can constantly grow and also tangible have something to represent the success of their growth. From my experience the best way to reduce entitlement is to selectively choose appropriate rewards for exceptional work. Rewards and trophies are only valuable if they are scarce. Find a good balance where rewards are frequent enough to that people seek them out constantly, but never so frequent that “everyone gets one”.