The Way to Win the “Blame Game”? Don’t Play

There is something magical about playoff atmospheres in professional sports. Every play matters. Every shift of momentum can be the difference between winning and losing. With everything on the line, every integral detail matters. That is, until the game is decided. Only one team wins their last game in the end. So for most, the season ends with a humbling defeat. All the dreams, hopes, and energy put forth are gone. 

Having experienced this kind of failure, I can attest it is painful to its core. But, it is part of the process. 

While I would like to say that business and life are different from professional sports, they are not in this regard: Failure and adversity happen. 

February may be the most appropriate month of the year to take a deeper look at adversity. Here in Illinois, February (and the cold winter weather that accompanies it) can seem like it will last forever; it almost feels permanent. Adversity can often feel like that too — like it’s permanent, with no end in sight. 

During the next few weeks, I’ll offer some thoughts on overcoming adversity, but for now, let me start by saying this: to overcome adversity, we must first accept it. 

This may sound elementary, but it is not. 

Leaders Take Responsibility

When a football team loses a hard-fought playoff game, its coaches (or leaders) need to take responsibility for the loss, regardless of others factors. Looking for outside sources to blame leaves one in denial and opens the door to an unproductive, never-ending game of “what if.” 

“What if the referee had made the right call?”

“What if it didn’t rain during the 4th quarter?”

“What if the other team’s star player hadn’t recovered in time?”

Some fan bases have grown comfortable with this kind of reasoning. And let’s be honest — sometimes referees make bad calls, the weather doesn’t cooperate, or the lineup is different than anticipated. 

But, all of this “what if” misses the point that winners don’t blame others. Winners only become winners by accepting the loss and overcoming the adversity the loss brings with it. 

In my observation, many business leaders can easily see when professional athletes fall into the “blame game” mindset. But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot — their own? Who gets the blame when their company’s performance is abysmal? And what about when their company’s sales and profits are a fraction of what they used to be — whose fault is that? 

In the last two years, I have heard leaders point to Trump, Biden, COVID-19, and numerous other factors, from bad salespeople to unmotivated millennials, as the reason for their business’ decline. These excuses lead to denial and the “what if” game. It’s not productive, nor the kind of approach a winner takes. 

Accept the Loss

With that in mind, let me be clear: any lack of success at Hoffer Plastics has been MY doing. And because I share leadership with my sisters, it’s their doing as well. The point is that I will not blame our salespeople, our operations people, or anyone else I have the pleasure of leading. I will blame the bald guy I look at in the mirror each morning. 

I own it. 

Accepting adversity is the only way one can deal with adversity. Like a frigid February morning, it is not pleasant, but it is reality. 

The good news is that accepting the loss helps you take the first step to overcome it. You are no longer in denial because you are acknowledging that it exists. You can take stock, reflect, and make countless changes to come back better. 

But only if you take ownership of it.