Project Leadership: focus on solutions, rather than playing the blame game

When projects don’t work out, it’s easy to just blame the failure on others, but it’s ultimately counterproductive. Here’s how to focus on resolving issues. Whether it’s work “politics” or anger at the current political administration, there’s an overabundance of blame, angst, and even visceral anger directed at various entities, both real and imagined. Whole industries have sprung up around this phenomenon. On the professional side, decades after IT became a staple of companies large and small, we’re still hearing about the antics of “the business,” and what seems like a constant campaign of sabotaging our purest intentions in IT.

If you’ve ever been on the other side of that equation, you’ve probably sat in similar meetings where voices were raised in anger over IT sabotaging every noble action. Software and services companies have jumped on the bandwagon, using the stereotype of diametrically opposed IT and business entities to sell reporting tools, software, and consulting engagements.This perennial blame game follows us in our personal lives as well, especially after recent political events. Hop onto your favorite 24-hour cable or radio news show, and it seems the world is on the brink of destruction due to the opposing political party. Every ill in the world, and there are dozens of new ones every day, is the fault of the other side. Take a moment to flip up or down a few channels, and you’ll find a station representing the other political party, equally outraged at a world teetering on the brink of destruction due to the actions of your party. Forget “big oil” or the dreaded “military industrial complex.” Amplifying grievances, both real and imagined, has become a big business and surrounds us in our professional and personal lives. It’s easy to see why: when you can blame all your professional and personal problems on another party, one that you’re unable to change or impact, you’re absolved of any accountability or control over your own destiny.

Now what?

Continue to wring your hands and gnash your teeth at work politics, the business, or various political figures or, acknowledge that those energies could be better spent on making progress around immovable objects rather than pushing against them. When for example your latest initiative hasn’t been approved by your colleagues in the business, despite an airtight business case and charter, you might be tempted to blame those boneheads in finance for failing to see the benefit. Or, you can try to determine the rationale behind their rejection, and see if there’s a way to modify your plan or adjust the business case.Even if there are no possibilities on that front, merely understanding why your proposal was rejected can provide a path forward. Perhaps an area you thought was important is being de-emphasized. Maybe there is a larger project afoot that IT could play a critical role in enabling, and it was perceived that you were attempting to “go it alone.” In most cases, whether professional or personal, a simple three step process can prove significantly more effective than sulking off into a corner to lick your wounds and lament your grievances:

Realize what you can’t change: If you’re pinning many of the wrongs in your life on a politician, celebrity, or sports team, you’re wasting your time and energy. Unless you’re one of a handful of people, the sitting president doesn’t care that you dislike his policies, nor does the local professional sports team care that you think they’re a bunch of lazy bums. If you’re a junior programmer, the CFO probably isn’t factoring your opinion into her decisions, and even as the top IT leader, your well-reasoned actions may often fail to move your peers. As soon as you realize you’re pushing against an immovable object, redirect your energy to a different activity, a good workout, or even a good night’s sleep. You’ll quickly discover that attempting to change the unchangeable was having a significant negative effect on your life.

Put yourself into their shoes: In all but very rare cases, the party you’re dealing with generally does not have a primary objective of sabotaging your career, the company, or the world in general. Even if you don’t agree with them, try to understand their goals, constraints, and objectives. This information will help you determine if there’s a slightly different path you can take that will end in success, or identify new information that you didn’t previously realize and will better inform you in the future. For example, if sales isn’t interested in that great new sales force software, they might be considering a shift to e-commerce, causing you to rethink your overall technology portfolio.

Plot a new path forward: It’s fine to take a moment to lick your proverbial wounds, but more than a day spent blaming the other party for something real or imagined is time misspent. If you’ve taken the time to identify people and viewpoints that you cannot change, and tried to understand the other party, there should be multiple paths and approaches you can take to move forward. Even if the only path available is to abandon an effort and focus on something else, that is highly valuable information that ultimately makes you a more effective individual.

Being in a perpetual state of blame gives the object of your aspersions ultimate power over you. If you’re constantly blaming “the business” for a lack of effectiveness in IT, you’ll ultimately render IT ineffective by virtue of not launching any successful initiatives and constantly pitching the same ideas rather than trying to plot a better path forward. If your work, relationships, or quality of life suffer due to some immovable person or object, it’s because you’ve surrendered the power over your life to that person. Ending the blame game will not only make you a more effective IT leader, but a more effective human being.