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No Excuses

– By James M Kerr

If a leader expects high standards from his or her team, then he or she must be held to the same standards. No excuses for bad behaviour or poor performance should be made or deemed acceptable. It’s a simple formula, but one that can transform if applied in an open and honest way.

Leaders cannot make excuses for their own shortcomings or failures if they want people to follow them. I’ve witnessed leaders who routinely make excuses for their less-than exemplary conduct – it turns people off and serves to dispirit their subordinates who have to endure the endless justifications.

Business leaders must strive to establish and organisation in which they and their people act as one. There is an all-pervading sense within such companies that every employee, from the chief executive to the office cleaner, share common goals, communicate with each other in timely and effective ways and always act as one.

Making no Excuses at Virgin

Richard Branson co-founded what was to become one of the biggest independent record labels in the world. Through great vision, hard work, shrewd manoeuvring and canny risk-taking, he transformed Virgin Records into a huge transnational corporation comprising lifestyle, media, money, music and environmental and travel businesses that span the globe.

But that type of success doesn’t just happen. Branson consistently walked the talk and took the responsibility for leading this company through all of its ups and downs, epitomising the meaning of the phrase “the buck stops here”. It is not difficult to take credit when things are going along swimmingly. It is a far greater challenge to shoulder accountability when things don’t go so well.

Over the years, some of Virgin’s businesses have flopped big-time. Remember Vigin Cola? It failed to usurp Coca-Cola as the as the world’s favourite soft drink. It’s no longer around. How about Virgin Digital? It was intended to rival iTunes. It didn’t make it either. Even in failure, though, Branson never played the blame game. He took responsibility for decisions made and risks taken and moved on.

When a business leader operates in this way and makes no excuses for poor performance or failure, he or she fosters accountability in everyone who works for them. In such companies, everyone is in it together, learning equally from failures and celebrating the wins. It becomes a winning organisation – just like Virgin.

In fact, the most outstanding leaders convey a strong sense of being “in it together” among the people who they lead. They collaborate with and include staff in problem-solving and issue adjudication. The best leaders don’t pretend to have all of the answers. Rather, they prefer to solicit input and perspectives from the front-line personnel who do the work every day.

We need to remember, however, that even exceptional leadership can be undermined if the executive in charge tolerates bad behaviour within his or her management team. It is an executive’s responsibly to do away with bad behaviour and demand that their management team works and acts as one – all of the time – no excuses.

Great leaders transform. They not only revitalize the organisations in which they work but they invigorate the people with whom they work. They do this by dreaming the dream, widely communicating it and making it their business to be keenly involved in the achievement of their vision through dynamic direction-setting .


James M. KerrJames M. Kerr is a management consultant and organizational behaviorist and is the founder of the Best Practices Enterprise Group. Consulting with many US Fortune 100 firms, he can claim such diverse organizations as The Home Depot, JP Morgan Chase, Mitsui Sumitomo, IBM and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as clients.

His forthcoming book, The Executive Checklist, (to be published in December 2013 / January 2014), is a primer for how to set direction and manage change in a 21st century enterprise.

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