I'm Sorry. The Project is Delayed, and It's All My Fault

In one of my previous delayed projects, I told my manager, "It's all my fault. I made many mistakes, and I take full responsibility for them." Although my manager walked me through the reasons for the delay and tried to show me how everyone had their own portion, I still blamed myself, which contributed to a burnout that I had a year later.

I learned that I was not acting responsibly. Instead, I absorbed all responsibilities without leaving anything to others. At that time, it seemed like good behavior. I was the lead developer in the project, and I thought that the leaders should be responsible for the failures. However, absorbing all of it was destructive, and it was detrimental to me and everyone around me.

I was soaking up all the responsibilities, or as Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen call it, I was a blame absorber: "When things go wrong, you point the finger at yourself, now and forever." Now I know why I always had an imaginary finger pointed at me.

All my life, everyone prompted the idea of learning from mistakes. We fail, we learn; we don't make the same mistake again. "Make a lot of mistakes, own them. That's how you will learn," they said. However, I found out that some of us learn more than others, while few of us do not learn at all. When I put a magnifier on how to take lessons from failures, I found the connection to the amount of responsibility taken.

When there is no responsibility taken, there is no learning. Stone & Heen calls these no-responsibility-takers as blame shifters. When things go south, blame shifters, opposite the blame absorbers, shift all the blame to others and take no responsibility. Therefore, they don't learn at all. Both blame shifter and absorber are states we all have been in our lives. Who didn't blame the previous developer on the project for all the mistakes?

In my delayed project, there was no previous developer to blame. When I soaked up all responsibility, I was focused on only my side and failed to see how other elements contributed to the delay.

There was no apparent contributor besides me in hindsight. When I dig now, I see that there were other small and significant contributions. When I soaked every failure, there was none left for these contributors to learn. They also made mistakes, and all of them went unnoticed, and they didn't learn as much as they could. There was one more consequence that nobody could have seen.

I built up resentment. At that time, I looked around and thought that nobody takes responsibility as much as I take. I started to have a grudge when I was the only one who took things seriously. My obliviousness caused me to blackout the holistic view of everyone's contributions. These thoughts had built up, and until my burnout, I didn't recognize them at all.

I learn now that the blame absorber behavior is not healthy for anyone. At first, it looks like a good habit that showcases responsible behavior. However, it's easy to recognize how detrimental it is to the group and the person when looked closely. The project was delayed, and I was responsible, true. However, I didn't delay the project alone. When I told my manager, "It's all my fault. I made many mistakes, and I take full responsibility for it," she responded with, "It's not a big problem, Candost. I appreciate you taking responsibility, but it's not all on you; we're in this together." Now, I understand how we are in this together.

Complement with Bias for Action and Importance of Feedback.

Medium Length Last Updated: Dec 2, 2021