Let’s be honest: No one wants to entertain excuses — even perfectly good ones.
“The dog ate my homework.”
Even though this famous excuse is rarely used, what it symbolizes is all-too-familiar: an aversion to admit accountability. What’s more, the urge to excuse one’s blunders rather than shoulder them reveals a bigger issue: a lack of character.
Let’s be honest: No one wants to entertain excuses — even perfectly good ones. We value friends who are reliable, we promote employees who are consistent, we love spouses because when they wrong us, they rectify it. Not for nothing did the sign on Harry Truman’s desk proclaim, “The buck stops here!”
Of course, emergencies arise, and we all screw up from time to time. Yet it’s how you fix things that counts, that makes you who you are.
How about this well-worn crutch? “I was stuck in traffic… And parking was even worse.” Anyone who’s ever sat behind a steering wheel has bumped into these predicaments. That you didn’t prepare for them indicates a preference to make others wait rather than show up early. No excuses.
Here’s my favorite refrain: “I’ve been busy.” Nope. We make time for what’s important to us. Why not just say you dropped the ball and apologize? And then make up for it. No excuses.
If you say you’ll do something, don’t make your counterpart follow-up for an ETA. If you agree to call at a certain time, don’t make the person on the other end of the line wait. If a request is ambiguous, don’t foist the monkey back; assume the burden, and propose clarifications.
If you’re nodding, you’ll be gratified to know you’re in good company. At Apple, whenever an executive reached the level of vice president, Steve Jobs would deliver a short sermon. Jobs imagined the garbage in his office wasn’t being emptied, and when he asked the janitor why, the janitor shrugged. The locks were changed, and the janitor didn’t have a key.
This is understandable coming from someone who empties trash bins for a living. As Jobs put it, “When you’re the janitor, reasons matter.” But when you’re a VP, he continued, “reasons stop mattering.”
What matters, I would add, are commitments.
This Rubicon separates the shoulder-shrugger from the commitment-keeper — or the staffer from the manager, the manager from the VP, the VP from the C suite. To the commitment-keeper, it doesn’t matter who or what’s at fault; an excuse signifies a personal failure. To the commitment-keeper, nothing is more than important than keeping your word, and thus your integrity.
Think of this the next time you find yourself in a hole. Will you dig out with an alibi or accountability? The choice is yours.