Blame and responsibility

Another topic that came up at the conference was the issue of blame and responsibility. How do you react, when a situation is all your fault? Or when somebody accuses you of it? We talked about it, and a thought came to me: There are a few differences between blame and responsibility.

Blame is looking back, responsibility is looking forward. If I blame you, it’s about something that’s already happened. If I give you responsibility for something, that means the outcome is still uncertain.

Blame means you’re essentially powerless. It’s done, it’s in the past, all you can do now is argue about whether or not it’s your fault. Responsibility means you have the power to change things.

But perhaps the most important difference to me, is that blame can be divided, whereas responsibility can’t. If something bad happens, it can be 50% my fault and 50% yours. If we have a shared responsibility for something, we both have 100% responsibility. Acting as if you can pass around shares of responsibility has some weird consequeces. In my thinking, 10 people working on the same project all have 100% responsibility.

This reminds me of a story I heard once, of the CEO of a danish company who went around in the organization taking the blame. Whenever there was a conflict or a crisis, he’d step in and say “It’s my fault”, leaving his people free to work out solutions. He took the blame, they got the responsibility.

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