Get Out of the Blame Trap and Start Changing Undesired Outcomes
Tiger Woods recently fired his golf coach, one with whom he won eight PGA titles over four years. Over his career, he has had three coaches and, while results may have diminished over time, each has been part of multiple PGA titles. Most players on the tour would kill for these results, so why does Woods keep firing them, and why is he doing so faster and faster?
Woods may have fallen into what I call a blame trap. His focus on swing coaches is muddying the real issues and standing in the way of the changes he needs to bring his game back. It’s easy focus on and assign blame to a single factor. But after three coaches, Woods remains the constant, and it’s time to stop talking about who will coach him and start talking about what he needs to change on his own.
This blame trap is not unique to Woods. Most people demonstrate it at certain times, and it’s particularly prevalent in business. I meet with many people each week and too often I hear that things could be better if they had a different boss, opportunity at work, different teammate or better coaching. In many cases, they may be correct. However, as with the Woods example, limiting unhappiness and dissatisfaction to one variable is very limited thinking.
To change our level of satisfaction with a situation, we first need to change our perspective. It’s easy to put blinders on and focus on one uncontrollable reason that something is going wrong. But it’s more productive to follow a longer-term thinking process that increases the likelihood of different outcomes. This can be done in three steps.
The first step is looking at all possible variables that could be leading to the result you are unhappy with. There are no wrong answers at this point so use it to look at any possible reason regardless of how outlandish it may seem. This is a time for self-reflection, as many of the toughest reasons to see are those that you could be causing yourself.
Once you’ve done a thorough inventory, you can start to break the reasons down to those over which you have short-term control and those you do not. For example, if you feel your boss is holding you back, short of quitting, you have limited short-term control. But, if you identify that less-than-ideal results could actually come from not putting the right amount of time into your job or focusing on the wrong actions, you can quickly reprioritize how you spend your hours.
For those reasons you have short-term control over, consider the changes you could make and the impact those changes would have on your outcome. With the other reasons, consider the long-term changes that could be made and the impact they would ultimately have. This might include researching and developing a strategy for changing the position you have or discussing the possibility of moving to a new division of your company, even though the change may take time. And, yes, it might mean deciding you’d be better off if you left, but at least you took the time to think that action through.
Once you’ve identified the reasons and possible new actions, your solution becomes a prioritization exercise for both short-term and long-term changes based on impact. Presto, you have a plan.
Not quite. How you prioritize them depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, a decision that may have changed during your inventory and categorization. So the key element now is committing to a decision, deciding the immediate steps you’ll take to move closer, and planning the longer-term changes you want to influence down the road.
In Woods’s case, the longer-term outcome is to regain his position as a force on the PGA tour. One of his immediate steps was changing his coach. But other changes might be adjusting his training regimen, identifying and dealing with any mental blocks that are getting in the way of success, or evaluating different equipment. Those are each elements over which he has short-term control, and are simple to equate to a business context.
This process is easy to write about, but it’s harder to implement. Change requires reflection, humility, objectivity and ultimately the desire to make necessary changes. However, if you are unhappy with certain outcomes, this process is a great way to stop blaming one variable and start looking for a solution.