Victim Vs. Accountable (how you tell your story)

Something goes wrong at work.

The order wasn’t delivered on time and the customer is irate, IRATE, I tell you!  Someone is getting yelled at on the phone and tensions are high.

After minutes of office-wide tension, the issue gets resolved.  Shipments are tracked down and a new schedule has been put in place.  But that customer is about to leave you… and everyone’s on edge.

Now it’s time to spew venom all over one individual for destroying everything you hold dear.


While “Jeff” did forget to send the confirmation email to the supplier, it’s not going to build team cohesiveness and a sense of trust to rip him to shreds in front of everyone.  I’d venture to say nothing you can say will make him feel as bad as he already feels having let the team down (and gotten screamed at by the customer).

So what’s a better route?  How can the team find a lesson, learn to do better and support each other in their effort never ever to make any mistakes for the rest of their lives.



Team Leader: Jeff, you’re an idiot!  Why are you on this team again? What is it that you do?  Oh that’s right you manage clients! One email!  That’s all you had to do! Send ONE stinking email, but could you do that?  No. And NOW, now our 3rd biggest client is thinking of leaving us. You don’t get to talk to them ever again.  I’m giving your account to Kelli and you and I are having a performance review in 15 minutes in my office. All of the rest of you, this is a disaster.  Never let this happen to you.  I don’t care how you do it or what your “excuses” are. We don’t make mistakes, we deliver products.  I’m done here. Everybody get back work, Jeff, my office 15m.


Team Leader: Well that was awful.  Right now I feel really stressed that our 3rd biggest client is thinking of leaving us.  What we know for sure is that communication broke down in the management of this client’s expectations and in our supply chain. An email wasn’t sent to confirm, yes, but that can’t be all that happened. Today is Monday, I’d like to meet on Wednesday morning as a team in the conference room and I’d like all of us to talk about places where our processes are unstable and what we can do as a team to support each other and set up safety nets for ourselves.  Let’s think email automation, software that can help remind us and accountability partners on these big tasks. OK.  Everybody get up, go out for a quick walk (5m) and then come back with fresh perspective and let’s do some good work today. Jeff, let’s connect at the end of the day and talk about ways I can support you as we try to retain this client.

The first scenario is an emotional hijack of the team leader’s good sense.  The second scenario acknowledges the mistake and the stress and frustration it has caused but focuses on the team finding solutions together.

We all make mistakes.  Mistakes at work, lapses in judgement, an ill-timed comment to a respected co-worker. It’s how we frame those mistakes, how we handle them, that makes the difference.  You get to choose how you respond, every… single… time.

What’s interesting is that the Team Leader, even though he is shouting and angry and aggressive is playing the part of a victim.  There’s no accountability for the lapse in communication in scenario #1, only accusations, blame and lack of responsibility.

Every choice has benefits and prices.  Yes, even being a victim has its benefits!  The good news is, we all get to choose how we frame our stories.  In scenario #1 The Team Leader gets to escape responsibility by being a victim but he pays the price of losing trust and respect from his team. In scenario #2 the Team Leader chooses to be accountable to the client, possibly suffering through some negative feedback, but he gets the trust and respect of his team as well as increased influence over the way processes are implemented going forward.

To learn more about specific tools to increase your leadership efficacy, please visit

*There are of course very serious scenarios in which this is not the answer, such as domestic abuse and other acts of violence.  These strategies are targeted at the every day trials we encounter at work and at home that can be reframed in a more positive light. If you are the victim of physical or emotional violence, please seek counseling and take care of yourself gently.

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