Skip to content

Give Credit, Take Blame

August 24, 2021

Two guys selling balloons customer walking away from Blame Others to guy selling Accept Responsibility For Mistakes No Excuses balloonsWhen I was a kid (we’re talking ancient history here), everyone knew the story about George Washington and
the cherry tree
:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Little George, age 6 or so, was given a hatchet as a gift (toy departments were a lot different back then).blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Naturally he wanted to try it out, so he chopped down a cherry tree his father had planted. When his father confronted him, George uttered his famous line:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

“Father, I cannot tell a lie– it was I who chopped down
the cherry tree.”
blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Alas, the story’s just a myth, but like most myths it has an important lesson to teach: When you make a mistake, admit it.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

The story came to mind when I contributed to an Databox article about communicating bad news, either to your boss or to a client. It’s not our mistakes that get us in trouble, it’s how we handle them.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Program manager Mary Hladio says we’re tempted to cover up mistakes because we know they can hurt our reputation. But doing so only compounds the mistake.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

There are no secrets anymore. Coverups have destroyed many a career in both business and politics. Better to own your mistake and resolve it as quickly as possible. It’s the only sure way to rebuild trust.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Think about what goes through your mind when someone says: “I’m afraid I have bad news…” Dread, anxiety. Your heart starts to race. You’re about to be blindsided.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

That kind of sudden, out-of-the-blue shock should never happen in business– not if you’re keeping everyone informed.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Here’s what I said in the Databox article:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Never try to blame circumstances, bad luck, or anyone else. Accept responsibility, apologize, and lay out your plan for correcting the situation.

More importantly: provide regular status reports that include unforeseen developments, unexpected problems, delays, etc, and any other signs of trouble brewing.

By keeping people informed, you at least prevent bad news from coming as a shock. The first rule of business: no surprises.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

I love copywriter Alexander Porter‘s mantra: “Give credit. Take blame.” In fact, I stole it for the title of this post.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

When things go wrong it’s natural to slip into self-defense mode. After all, 99% of mistakes are shared at some level.

But trying to assign blame elsewhere isn’t a long-term strategy worth pursuing. Even if you do convince your boss or manager that someone else carried the lion’s share of the blame, will your teammates want to work with you after that?blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Jarie Bolander of JSY PR & Marketing adds the following:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

“Any and all bad news should be communicated before a meeting. The meeting should be the place to figure out how to resolve the issue.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Better yet, come to that meeting with an action plan. Chris Wilks of BrandExtract:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Most clients understand that the path to success is rarely
a straight line so don’t try to sugarcoat or spin results.

Instead, own it and deliver your plan or solution for fixing the problem. This will show your client that you’re proactively working to make their project a success, which
is why they hired you in the first place.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

It’s important to note, too, that owning a problem doesn’t solve it. You may have to devote long hours to damage control and setting things right.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Mary Hladio also notes that admitting mistakes doesn’t mean you’ll somehow be immune to consequences.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Even if you do everything you can to be upfront, apologetic, and to fix the problem, you should know that that there may be fallout from what happened.

You will need to rebuild trust… the best thing you can do is to document lessons learned so the mistake is not made again by you or anyone else.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Speaking of apologies, author and coach Michael Hyatt says it’s important to show remorse for mistakes:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

It doesn’t end with ownership… Our failings cause difficulty to others. Our mistakes cost time, money, and sometimes heartache.

We should express sorrow and regret for the hurt our behavior caused.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

When we blame others, we look petty. We lose credibility. When we accept blame and take responsibility, we earn respect, and we earn trust.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Final thought goes to the late physicist and Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Being wrong is not a bad thing like they teach you in school. It is an opportunity to learn something.

There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       * blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images
are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Ashley Callahan content strategy PR manager Chick-fil-A restaurants corporate

blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

blank vertical space, 40 pixels high

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Campbell permalink
    August 25, 2021 7:12 AM

    An excellent philosophy Mark and one I have put to good use. Unfortunately, I have been on the other side of the fence where even the bosses wouldn’t own up to their mistakes.


    • August 31, 2021 8:23 AM

      Hey, Steve!– do forgive this tardy reply. I hear you– I think we’ve all been on the other side of that fence. Fortunately, I’m now self-employed, so I work for a guy who has to take the blame– he’s got nowhere else to put it!! Always good to hear from you– thanks! 😊


  2. August 25, 2021 9:21 AM

    Great post Mark. I love people who accept responsibility and hope I am one. But many in the corporate or govt realm are so scared of liability they teach denial and set examples of avoidance and denial. When that’s company policy, it takes an even bigger person to suck it up and say I did it. That’s kind of disheatening.


    • August 31, 2021 8:31 AM

      Hi, Alison! Thanks so much. Couldn’t agree with you more. One expression I really hate is “Mistakes were made.” Using the passive voice to dodge responsibility and cast the blame on some unknown (nonexistent!) person. It’s become a commonplace, and it teaches a terrible lesson. Disheartening indeed. Do forgive this late reply– great to hear from you!! 😊


  3. September 7, 2021 8:26 PM

    Sure helps acknowledge a mistake and ….offer a way to fix. Now the judgement errors of vaccine vs. no-vaccine…are harder to accept.


    • September 11, 2021 6:51 PM

      Hi, Jean! Always good to see you, and thanks for your comment. I’m afraid nowadays, what used to be seen as a difference of opinion, is now viewed, automatically, as a situation where one person is right, and the other wrong. It makes it much harder to have a civil conversation and an exchange of views. Getting some lovely early fall weather here in New Hampshire– hope you’re gearing up for some great rides!! 🚴 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • September 12, 2021 2:30 PM

        Sadly the tree colours are turning already here. That’s too fast…


A penny for your thoughts. I'm on a tight budget here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: