• Acknowledging my shortcomings and taking ownership in results, not blaming others
  • Accepting my responsibility to clients and colleagues and admitting my role in situation
  • Seeking accountability, focusing on self-improvement, and providing solutions

In my senior year of college I ran cross-country from August through November and indoor track from December through March. The hardest part of the transition from one sport to the other was the three-week Christmas break that came just before indoor track races. Although the break was filled with family fun and lots of delicious homemade food, those three weeks challenged my self-motivation to prepare appropriately for racing. Who wants to workout alone, in the cold, every day during a break from school? After enduring three-and-a-half years of collegiate training and racing year-round, my mind and body said three weeks off wouldn’t hurt my indoor track season.

So, I chose to run only two or three days a week during the break, and shortly after returning to school I toed the line for my first race of the indoor track season – and I failed. My coach pulled me aside after the race and asked what happened during training over the break. Ashamed, I told him the truth. I did not give him an excuse, I took responsibility for neglecting my training and the consequences thereof. Even though I accepted responsibility and acknowledged my mistake, those three weeks of poor training caused a ripple effect into my races for the next four months – and I didn’t have a rewarding race (in my opinion) until my final collegiate race, one week before graduation.
Too often, words, results, and excuses for behavior are the first thing that slip off the tongue. Maybe it’s due to fear of consequences or hiding laziness, although there are also times when one has a legitimate excuse for a situation – like when my husband’s dog actually took a few bites of his homework. No matter what, excuses only make matters worse and never help to solve a problem.
In the workplace excuses can hold back employees and employers from reaching their full potential, being reliable or putting their best work forward (see Dirk Shroeder’s thoughts on this GuideMark). Excuses can also create a snowball effect – one excuse for a missed deadline can build into an excuse for missing several days of work.
One way to limit – or eliminate – excuses in life and the workplace is to get ahead of an excuse-provoking situation. Procrastination, for example, can lead to creating a sloppy presentation or missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which then prompts excuses to arise about why things were not prepared or completed on time. A Forbes article about procrastination described seven ways to end procrastination. These include:
  • Write down your goal and give yourself a deadline.
  • Visualize the future you want.
  • Harness fear.
  • Build accountability.
By looking at ways to end or prevent habits such as procrastination, you can prevent yourself from making excuses.
Starting the habit of taking responsibility for all your actions – successes and setbacks – can also vanquish the desire to make excuses. When presented with a situation where you want to say, “Well, you see…” or “It’s not my fault…” or “I tried, but…” focus on taking a deep breath, looking the other person in the eye and accepting responsibility for the situation. Then find ways for co-workers, a manger or boss to help hold you accountable in the future.
On the other side of the equation, if someone is giving you an excuse, listen to the full story, ask open-ended questions, and focus on what you both can do with the present situation. Hold the person accountable for their part and encourage them to work harder and build a higher standard within themselves.
My coach didn’t give up on me even though I failed to reach the expectations we both had set for my last semester of college. And because he encouraged me to work extra hard and sculpt myself into a better athlete we both felt the joy of ending the year with a good performance. It only takes one person to create an excuse, but teamwork is needed to reverse it and turn the excuse into a positive result. Watch yourself to see when you’re making excuses and ask for help to improve in those areas, and look for opportunities to hold others accountable when they make excuses and encourage them to change tactics for the future.
“I never met a man who was good at making excuses, who was good at anything else.”
- Benjamin Franklin


Key Words and Phrases
Take ownership in outcomes, Agree to responsibility, Accept accountability, Provide solutions, Recognize failures, Acknowledge shortcomings, Focus on results not excuses, Admit mistakes.

Opposite Terms
Rationalize inferior work, Deny or justify a fault, Offer a pretext for failure, Provide self-justification.


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