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How Excuses Hold Your Leadership Brand Back

How Excuses Are Holding Your Brand Back

As entrepreneurs and executives, we often face challenges that are difficult, complex, and time-consuming. The pressure to deliver results quickly and efficiently can be immense, and in these high-stakes situations, the temptation to make excuses, or at least deflect some of the demands, can be strong. However, for the sake of our personal leadership brand and our effectiveness in our roles, we must resist this urge. Instead, we should focus on proactive communication, managing expectations, inviting collaboration, and seeking unexpected solutions.


I remember as a young art director, working on a design deadline so intense that we were holding the printer open overnight to get the job done. The client was faxing (yes, it was that long ago) changes, I was making them, printing out the entire piece, faxing the revisions back repeatedly as they kept coming in. The printer was asking when they would see the files, the bill was climbing by the minute, and the rest of the team had gone home. It was a Friday night at 7:00 pm, and my husband and I were going away for the weekend. He began calling, wanting to know when I would be home so we could leave.


I snapped under the pressure, which felt like it was coming from all sides. I sent the last version of the file to the printer without confirming there were no more revisions, and headed home. The phone began ringing at 8:00 pm, and my pager (yes, again, it was that long ago) started buzzing. But I chose to ignore all of it. We left town.


When I showed up at the office the next Monday, my boss and the account executive sat me down and explained that they, and the printer, had made more changes over the weekend, which cost even more money. Those changes had been mine to make, and had I stayed a few minutes longer, they would have been done. My bolting before confirming I was truly done put my job in jeopardy, and more than once in the months and years that followed, I had to reassure the team they could trust me to get the job done, especially under pressure.


I learned an enormous lesson in that short window of time. There was no excusing away the fact that I did not honor my commitment to see the project through. Had I needed help, or needed to set a boundary for what was physically possible, that time had passed when I ghosted everyone.


That is one of the biggest reasons we default to excuses. We let things get out of control. Here are some of the most common dynamics that cause us to shift into excuse mode, and the distinctive differences between excuses, solutions, and explanations.


You Waited Too Long to Communicate If You Are Making Excuses


One of the most effective ways to manage difficult situations is through proactive communication. By keeping stakeholders informed about progress, potential setbacks, and timelines, we can manage expectations and reduce misunderstandings. Clear and honest communication about what can realistically be achieved and the timeframes involved ensures that everyone has a realistic understanding of the project's scope and potential obstacles. Providing regular updates shows that we are actively managing the project and addressing any issues that arise, maintaining trust and confidence in our leadership.


If you find yourself making excuses, it’s a clear sign that you’ve waited too long to communicate. Excuses often stem from unexpected challenges that could have been mitigated or managed with timely updates. Regular and transparent communication helps to preempt the need for excuses by ensuring that everyone is aware of potential issues and the steps being taken to address them.


Assigning Blame to The Process, Other People, or Technology Means You Have Not Led Effectively


Embracing accountability is the cornerstone of effective leadership. Taking responsibility for our actions, decisions, and their outcomes, regardless of the circumstances, is crucial. When we hold ourselves accountable, we build trust with our teams, clients, and stakeholders. This trust is invaluable and forms the foundation of a strong personal brand.


Assigning blame to the process, other people, or technology signals a lack of leadership. Effective leaders understand that part of their role is to foresee potential pitfalls and devise strategies to navigate them. When we blame external factors, it not only damages our credibility but also undermines our ability to lead effectively. Instead of making excuses, focus on finding solutions and demonstrating resilience. This shift from blame to problem-solving enhances both your leadership and your personal brand.


Your Personal Brand Cannot Withstand Your Excuses


Trust is earned through demonstrating reliability and integrity. By owning our mistakes and shortcomings, we show that we are committed to learning and improving, strengthening both our personal brand and our organizational culture. The temptation to make excuses is detrimental to our credibility. Excuses signal a lack of responsibility and can erode the trust we have worked hard to build.


Your personal brand, built on perceptions of honesty, reliability, and competence, cannot withstand the damage caused by excuses. Each excuse chips away at the foundation of trust you have established. Instead, build your personal brand by consistently demonstrating accountability. This involves acknowledging mistakes, learning from them, and transparently communicating the steps you are taking to rectify issues.


Excuses Are Not Explanations


Many of us believe we are providing an explanation when we are actually making excuses. An excuse is an attempt to lessen the blame attached to a fault or failure. It often shifts responsibility away from oneself and can imply that the outcome was beyond one's control. Excuses typically lack a constructive element and do not offer a solution or a path forward.

On the other hand, an explanation, provides context and details about why something did not happen as expected. It takes responsibility for the outcome and is usually accompanied by an effort to address the issue, learn from it, and prevent it from happening again.


Explanation Example: "We didn't meet the deadline because the requirements changed multiple times. Moving forward, I will implement a more flexible project management approach to accommodate such changes and ensure timely delivery."


An excuse aims to deflect blame, while an explanation seeks to clarify the situation. Excuses often avoid taking responsibility, whereas explanations acknowledge one's role in the outcome. Excuses are usually not constructive and don't offer a way to improve, whereas explanations often include solutions or steps to prevent recurrence.


In business, providing explanations rather than making excuses is crucial for maintaining credibility and trust. Explanations demonstrate accountability and a commitment to continuous improvement, which are essential traits for effective leadership and strong personal branding.


  1. "We didn't meet the deadline because the requirements kept changing."

  • This excuse shifts blame rather than showing adaptability, undermining your reliability and flexibility.

  1. "I was waiting for approval."

  • This portrays a lack of initiative and responsibility, damaging perceptions of your leadership and decisiveness.

  1. "The market conditions weren't favorable."

  • This can be seen as a lack of foresight and strategic planning, weakening your credibility as a business leader.

  1. "Our competitors had more resources."

  • This implies an inability to compete effectively and innovate, which diminishes your reputation for strategic thinking.

  1. "The technology we used was outdated."

  • This excuse highlights a failure to stay current with industry standards, suggesting poor resource management.

  1. "We didn't have enough time to prepare properly."

  • This reflects poor time management and planning skills, eroding trust in your project management capabilities.

  1. "The instructions weren’t clear."

  • This points to a lack of clear communication and leadership, damaging your credibility as an effective communicator.

  1. "We were too busy with other projects."

  • This indicates poor prioritization and resource allocation, suggesting that you can't manage multiple responsibilities effectively.

  1. "The expectations were unrealistic."

  • This excuse shows a lack of problem-solving and negotiation skills, undermining your ability to handle challenging client relationships.

  1. "The process was ineffective."

  • This suggests poor planning, lack of proactive process management (or even awareness of the process improvements needed!) weakening your reputation for preparedness.


Inviting Collaboration and Seeking Unexpected Solutions


Complex challenges often require a collaborative approach. Inviting input and ideas from our team and stakeholders allows us to leverage diverse perspectives and expertise to find innovative solutions. Collaboration fosters a sense of ownership and collective responsibility. Encouraging team members to contribute ideas and solutions not only empowers them but also leads to more creative and effective outcomes.


Innovation often arises from unexpected places. By remaining open to unconventional ideas and approaches, we can discover solutions that may not have been immediately apparent. Encouraging creative thinking and exploring non-traditional solutions can lead to breakthroughs, helping us to approach problems from different angles and find innovative ways to overcome obstacles. Staying informed about the latest technological advancements and industry trends can provide new tools and methodologies to address challenges, enhancing our problem-solving capabilities and keeping us ahead of the curve.


Accountability Over Excuses is the Leadership Advantage


In the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship, we are constantly faced with challenges that test our abilities and resilience. By embracing accountability, avoiding excuses, communicating proactively, inviting collaboration, and seeking unexpected solutions, we can strengthen our leadership and personal brand. These practices not only enhance our credibility and trustworthiness but also foster a culture of innovation and collective responsibility. As entrepreneurs, our ability to navigate complex challenges with integrity and creativity is what sets us apart and drives our success. Embracing accountability over excuses is the true leadership advantage.

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