A clear sign of leadership maturity is the willingness to take responsibility. One aspect of this virtue is refusing to make excuses for personal failures or for those of others. I readily admit that listening while others blame is one of my pet peeves. Little rubs me rawer than when someone attempts to defend failed actions or inferior results by compromising, sanitizing, or trivializing the truth. Occasionally, I must endure the whininess in person at one of my workshops, as a leader goes to great lengths to defend why he’s keeping “five-car Fred” on the payroll. In other instances, it’s a self-righteous lecture I occasionally receive via email from a reader in denial. I rarely have time to respond to the complainers anymore. Over the years, replying to their reasoning has drained far too much time. I may be a slow learner, but I have picked up on the fact that people who rationalize failure are practically un-coachable and mostly unchangeable.
Excuses for failure remind me of a quote I heard and embraced years ago: “Excuses are the DNA of underachievers.” This same speaker went on to say that living in denial makes you a prisoner of wrong actions and outdated beliefs since it is impossible to change what you don’t acknowledge. Most would agree that excuses are a prime contributor to mediocrity. When you begin to explain away why you, or others, failed to deliver results, you become quite ordinary and blend into a crowded mass of mediocre souls slogging through life, all the while complaining that they haven’t caught the breaks or are victims of bad press or perceptions. In their sanctimonious minds, they are simply misunderstood. But what they fail to understand is that success, and failures, are not accidents. You either set yourself up for them or you don’t. Successes and failures both result from a series of choices and actions one makes over time, of sowing and reaping. While one may catch a good or bad break occasionally, over the course of a lifetime, you don’t succeed or fail by chance.
Those who become mediocre in their thinking, actions, and results, forego the opportunity to turn their fortunes around by shifting their focus to making better decisions and taking wiser action. Instead, they continue to bemoan conditions and render themselves powerless to affect their own futures. If you look up the dictionary’s definition for “mediocre,” it says: moderate to inferior in quality; ordinary. This definition reflects an accurate picture of what happens when one engages in the blame game.
If you’ve succumbed to the blaming habit, you’re in grave danger of becoming “moderate to inferior,” if you haven’t descended into that state already. Here are five thoughts concerning mediocrity to help you, or someone you care about, right your course and stay on a path of personal responsibility that elevates your self-worth, the value you bring to others, and to your organization.
- Mediocrity begins with “me.” It is not something that someone or something does to you. It is a result of choices you’ve made, conditions you’ve accepted, or wrong actions you’ve taken.
- Mediocrity is a personal concession to less than your best. What the mediocre are really saying is, “this is good enough so deal with it.” When you substitute excuses for results, you are boldly making this concession and resigning yourself to living out a career and life that’s “good enough” rather than the best it can be.
- You break free from mediocrity by making better decisions, not by waiting for more favorable conditions. This should encourage you, because while you cannot control conditions, you do have control over your decisions.
- Living in denial prolongs your marriage with mediocrity. If you don’t face it, you cannot fix it. The box you’ve put yourself in will one day become a casket.
- Make your break with any mediocre aspect of your life by deciding to do the following:
- Put away your black belt in blame and accept responsibility for your results. Understand that one of the best days of your life is the day that you renounce excuses, grow up, and become a man or woman of responsibility and accountability.
- Stop defending mediocrity in others on your team, and face reality about their skills, talent, discipline, attitude, or character. Only when you first see people as they really are can you help them become what they’re meant to be.
- Commit to personal development so that you elevate the quality of your thinking, and are able to make better personal choices concerning your own attitude, character choices, application of knowledge, and strengthening of discipline.
- Get clearer about what you want and then resolve to pay the price to achieve it; deciding up front that you’ll ditch the excuses and hold yourself accountable for results.
One of the saddest epitaphs for many who choose to lead mediocre lives will be that when they die it will be as though they never lived. But what’s sadder yet is that when the sweat of their death bed wakes them up to the fact that they’ve missed their life, they’ll be haunted by the classic lament of life’s biggest underachievers: “I could have, I should have, if only I would have.”
Each day you have two choices: performance or excuses. Choose well, it becomes your legacy.