[March 25, 2018] As a leader you will get blamed for bad things happening, even if it is not your fault. A few days ago United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said in a speech to a business group that the airline had badly handled a number of incidents on its flights.1 From a passenger being dragged off a flight to dogs dying, these incidents show that leaders must be prepared to handle bad situations that are not of their own making.
Munoz said that the airline is learning from its mistakes. He’s right about this. Why? Because to be successful in leadership you have to establish trust; trust that people give you when they place themselves and property in your care. When an event occurs that you have no control over, it stills effects those who rely upon you and thus the leader remains responsible.
Good leaders are able to predict and prepare for situations that are outside their control. This means thinking ahead, providing resources and training for those who work for you and establishing standards of performance. If a leader cannot identify potential problem areas, then that leader is not worth much in the scheme of things. They will also not last long as an effective leader.
Leaders must be adept at ensuring everyone is working toward the same goals but they also must educate others how to act appropriately when they get blamed, rightly or wrongly, for things outside their control. Those leaders are the coaches of their team, whether it be three people or three thousand folks on their team.
It does no one any good when a leader deflects blame, points the finger at others, gives excuses for any failure, or tries to deny there is even a problem. This is not unlike the advice I used to give when I was a military Flag officer, “Some people will love you for who you are and some people will hate you for who you are.”
Leaders must have a thick skin that protects them against the incessant criticism that is certain to follow a bad incident. They must rise above it, ensure the right thing is done to repair any damage, and then move on with those lessons remembered so the leader is ready to handle any circumstance; even if it’s not their fault.