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No Reason For Excuses

November 16, 2009

“Excusing of a fault doth make the fault worse by the excuse.”
William Shakespeare

The owner – manager of a well established business was discussing the cause of performance problems in his business. When asked the difference between an excuse and a reason, he replied, “I have reasons, everybody else has excuses.”

In looking to improve performance, the difference between excuses and reasons is more than just semantics and personality. For both managers and individuals, it is important to know the difference.

Excuses are attempts to justify failure. Reasons identify tangible factors upon which action can be taken. Excuses have the effect of shifting responsibility. Reasons assume responsibility.

When you take the time, it is quite easy to distinguish between reasons and excuses. As managers and individuals it is sometimes too convenient not to make the distinction.

In addition to their other shortcomings, Adam and Eve committed the “original excuse” in the Garden of Eden. When asked why they had eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam replied in essence, “she made me do it.” His reply was a clear effort to justify his failing while attempting to shift the responsibility for it to another. Do you have any descendants of Adam and Eve in your business?

Excuse making can occur unconsciously. It can be habit forming for an individual and can become part of the accepted culture in a business. While making an excuse gives temporary relief, its long term effect is dehabilitating. It’s a practice that must be recognized and stopped.

It starts subtly. “We lost the game because of the officials.” Most teams that transfer the responsibility for their fate to the men in stripped shirts will continue to come up short. They forget the earlier fumbles that they alone where responsible for. They can’t control the officials and they won’t stop the fumbles unless they are willing to take the responsibility for them.

Excuse making is habit forming. It continues. “I was late for work because of traffic.” There are few traffic jams that couldn’t be avoided by earlier departures. In fact, most traffic jams occur after you are already behind schedule.

It can get serious and become an obstacle to achieving important objectives. “I didn’t get promoted because my boss didn’t like me.” If you’re really good, the boss has an incentive to promote you. If you don’t get the promotion, there will be other opportunities if you are good enough.

The major failing of the excuse maker is their inability to take responsibility for their actions. It does no good to shift the responsibility to others when things don’t turn out your way. The habit of blaming others only prevents us from profiting from our own mistakes.

We are all responsible for our own successes and failures. When things don’t turn out well, making excuses by transferring the responsibility to others, your boss, your competition, your family, or the stars, will only further distance you from achieving your real potential.

Rather than make excuses to justify failure, the achiever will seek out the reasons, factors upon which action can be taken. Ask the question, “What can I do differently the next time to achieve the desired results.”

The assumption of responsibility is often associated with the bearing of a burden. In fact the opposite is true. The excuse maker, the individual who looks to avoid responsibility for the consequences of their behavior, comes to believe that they have little control over their life. What a truly enormous burden that will be!

“I didn’t make any sales today, but nobody else did either.” That’s an excuse and it won’t put any bread on the table. Does it make any difference what happened elsewhere. Your job is to make sales, not explain why you didn’t. You need to determine the reasons you didn’t make the sales. You can take action on reasons. Excuses make you feel good, but only temporarily.

Is the glass half empty or half full? Excuse makers always focus on what they lack, not on how they could better utilize what they have. When you focus on what you have, you are able to determine how those resources can be better used to surmount the obstacles that lie between you and your objectives.

Because it’s your business, remember he who excuses himself, accuses himself. Don’t be guilty!

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