Two envelopes

There’s an old story about a manager being fired and leaving his successor two envelopes. The envelopes, labeled #1 and #2 are to be opened in that order when the new manager gets in a tough situation. The story goes that the new manger gets in a bind, opens #1 which has a note inside that reads “Blame it on me.” This works for a little while and then another major problem arises. The new manager opens up #2 which contains a note that reads “Prepare two envelopes.”

All too often, people spend more time trying to find someone else to blame than they do trying to fix the problem. I’ve seen this happen in college with people I’ve worked on group projects with and I’ve seen politicians at every level up to The President use this tactic. Politicians can get away with it because there is usually a significant amount of the population that will agree with them based simply on their party affiliation. But in the business world, it’s just like the story with the envelopes where people that are always blaming others eventually run out of people that they can reasonably blame.

I used to fall victim to this because I didn’t want to feel like I was the one that messed up. It wasn’t until I was standing in line a job fair back in early 2003 that I consciously realized that I was doing this. I struck up a conversation with two people who were in front of me in line – like me, they had been laid off from their jobs. What’s funny was the first guy blamed President Bush for his situation. Not the idiots he used to work for (that’s who I was about the blame), but the President of the United States. The other guy contested that the dot com demise was due to Bill Clinton not preventing the bubble from bursting.

It was these two ridiculous statements that got me to think about my answer. I thought back about why I got laid off and realized a few things. First, I had not been happy at my job and it was obvious to everyone (note: this does not help job security). Second, I had some opportunities to leave in the past, but I felt I was well positioned with management at the time (guess what happened to them a few months before I left).

And yes, there was a new management team that came in a wreaked havoc, but all I did was sit there. It was that moment that I learned that the real person to blame was me. By admitting I failed, it at least helped me identify where I made mistakes so I wouldn’t make them again (which is another story).

We’ve all been around people who refuse to take responsibility for their mistakes and we know how we feel about them. Do you want to be like them? If you really want to succeed, you need to admit it when you make a mistake so you can correct what caused it. If you waste time always trying to find others to blame, you’ll find your friends, coworkers, clients, and anyone else you interact with will start avoiding you. You’ll not only have no one to blame, you won’t have people to interact with either.

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