Business Transformation

Want To Be A Decent Leader? Stop Making Excuses

Allow me to blow your mind by revealing the following fact:

All of your excuses are just lies. 

Simply, excuses are things that we tell ourselves so we can feel better about failing. Indeed, the root of that failure is the inability to do whatever it takes to be successful at whatever it is we are attempting to accomplish at the time.

Granted, the above statement is a mouthful. At its core, the statement is about accountability. As a leader, accountability starts with you. If you can’t face the facts, how can you expect your team to overcome the inevitability that those facts define?

I often write about decency and argue that it’s time that we place it at the top of our personal leadership agenda. If you want to be a decent leader – one that places the value of truth and trust above all else – you must stop making excuses for not getting the job done.

You don’t think you’re prone to making excuses? As a long-time leadership coach and management consultant, I can tell you that it is the number one practice that I see leaders use, to justify clumsy or slapdash team performance.

How many times have you heard (or, worse, made) statements, like:

  • We lost that deal because someone or something was unfair.
  • We could have done better, except someone or something didn’t go our way.
  • We missed our targets due to some unforeseen thing happening to us.

I could go on, but, you get the point. It is the most exceptional leader ends the above statements with: “because I didn’t do my job.”

How To Stop Making Excuses

Here’s how I advise my clients, and those whom I coach, on how to stop making excuses:

  1. Stay In The Moment: By remaining present, directly taking part in the work at hand, you provide yourself the opportunity to better anticipate, recognize and make mid-course adjustments needed to improve outcomes. Improve results and you’ll have less need to make excuses for sub-par performance.
  2. Eliminate “Should Be” Thinking: Every time you catch yourself thinking about what should have been, you’re turning on your own, personal excuse percolator – which will soon deliver you with a nice fresh set of excuses for missing the mark. Don’t do that to yourself. Instead, replace that kind of nostalgic thinking with acceptance of the circumstances. Focus your energy on problem solving and action taking on items with your control and sphere of influence – that’s how breakthroughs occur.
  3. Practice Self-Reflection: While we’re on the subject of problem solving, give yourself some time every day to reflect on how you’re doing. It can help you to (re)solve some of your current challenges.

Be sure to consider everything, including how you’re feeling inside and out. The state of your emotional and physical well-being affects your leadership performance. Additionally, your team’s ability to deliver results also affects your spirit. Through reflection, try to recognize the excuses that you’re developing about your current situation and work to eliminate the need, within yourself, to make them. This practice can help you to re-program how you approach setting direction and managing change within yourself and in your role of leading others.

To Close

Benjamin Franklin once wrote:

“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”

As you may have already guessed, I tend to agree.

As mentioned above, excuses are just lies that we tell ourselves so we can sleep at night. Make a habit of making excuses and your team will be able to see right through them. Consequently, they will lose respect for you. With time, you will lose respect for yourself. Let that happen and you will be of little use to anyone.

Instead, commit to staying in the moment, eliminating “should be” thinking and practicing self-reflection. Embrace these behaviors and you will become a more decent leader – worthy of greater respect and followership.


Written by James M. Kerr.

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James Kerr
James M. Kerr, founder at Indispensable Consulting, is a long-time management consultant, vision maker and leadership coach. For nearly 30 years, he has helped his clients re-imagine the way work is organized and performed. His latest book, Indispensable: Build and Lead A Company Customers Can’t Live Without is his 6th business title. Kerr is an expert in leadership, strategy, organizational design and cultural transformation. James Kerr is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.