Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

“He did not know how to make sausage…”

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“He did not know how to make sausage, but he did know how to give freedom, and if someone believes that the former is more important than the latter he is likely never to have either.” Pravda on Mikhail Gorbachev

It seems like each day in the paper or on TV we are inundated with politicians or leaders of various nations and other organizations trying to deflect blame for their poor performance or misdeeds. If they can point the finger at anyone else, at any other group or organization it seems that the temptation is just too great to accept blame for their own failings. The question that springs to my mind is whether these leaders consciously try to deflect blame in an attempt to retain or ascend to positions of power, or are they truly unable to see that they are the cause of the strife or the misdeeds that surround them?

Every once and in a while a leader, like Gorbachev, comes along with the ability to see through the current situation to a better future, but more recently it is the people themselves who rise up to secure what they hope to be a better future for themselves. Gorbachev’s actions 20 years ago, which recognized the reality of the collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in a period of uncertainty in Russia, as it laid the groundwork for a period of freedom that has since been methodically undermined by Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. The Russian people knew a “spring” but spring gave way to fall and the first chills indicating the onset of another winter. The Russian people are now beginning a struggle to reclaim some of Gorbachev’s and Boris Yeltsin’s heritage to them.

This week Mikhail Gorbachev recommended to Vladimir Putin that he step down from power in Russia. This was amid the growing demonstrations about the rigged election that was designed to prepare the ground for Putin to once again ascend to power in Russia as its President, having taken a break after 2 terms due to term limits. For his part Putin has been claiming that the demonstrations against the election were due to “outside agitators”. The claim was that citizen protests were due to external factors, rather then what people feel internally.

Locus of control research has shown that when a person fails they are likely to blame external factors, but when they see someone else fail they are more likely to place blame on that person’s lack of innate abilities. When a person succeeds, locus of control research indicates that there is a tendency for that person to attribute their success to their own innate abilities. However the tendency when someone else succeeds is to attribute it to luck.

When the person who is under the sway of locus of control tendencies and other influencers happens to be the head of a country or the leader of a major organization the implications can be profound. Compounding this tendency is the well-known sociological effect of increasing cohesion in a population by having an external enemy to blame for the hardships being faced or as a means to hold onto power. These two tendencies have shown up time and again recently in all different kinds of venues.

  • Newt Gingrich when he failed to get enough signatures to get on the Virginia ballot cast around for where to place blame and settled on “Virginia’s failed system”, the external cause, rather than his own lack of organization in Virginia.
  • A whole host of Arab leaders, Assad of Syria, Mubarak of Egypt, Gaddafi of Libya, Saleh of Yemen, each in their turn has blamed external agitators or terrorists rather than the conditions within their own countries for the attempts to throw them out of power.
  • Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, having signed a law eliminating collective bargaining rights, set off a series of protests that now has him struggling in a recall campaign, blamed “outside forces” for the unrelenting protests that occurred within the state capitol building. Were there outside forces at play on that contentious issue? Yes, of course on both sides, but outside forces cannot sign recall petitions, you must be a citizen. But the point is that he found it easier and more pleasing to look outside rather than within for the agitation that he stirred up among the citizens of Wisconsin.
  • Anthony Weiner indicated that his email account had been hacked and that the pictures circulating around the web and sent to various females of a certain part of his body was not done by him but by mysterious “others”.
  • Herman Cain first blamed a left wing conspiracy, then a right wing conspiracy then some unknown others who must have been giving a large sum of money to the woman who indicated that they had an affair stretching out over 12 years. Each time he made these accusations he stated that he had no evidence, but that it must be so. He seemed to truly believe that his ills came from some external power rather than emanating from his own behavior.
  • A different kind of illustration of the same principle comes from the area of climate change. And while the science is much more complex, there are groups that find it easier and more expedient to blame external effects (e.g. natural cycles), rather than mankind’s own action for the period of global warming and more extreme weather we are going through. And the point is these groups make these claims with absolutely no evidence, but it must be so they state. One congressman even stated that it was evidence of hubris that mankind would think that they could affect the world’s climate. Have you ever wanted to reach though the TV and tell someone that they are a complete idiot while you throttle them?

While of course not new, the number of times that the excuse of externally forces being  at play as the rationale for dismissing accusations, crimes, violence, murder, the taking away of rights, and in general bad behavior seems to me to be more plentiful now than it has ever been. I have to think that some of the leaders dismissing these activities are simply looking for a convenient excuse for their actions and are knowingly lying, but that others may be truly incapable of seeing the world accurately, always seeing sinister forces of some sort working against them or external forces controlling them. I am not sure which is worse.

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 25, 2011 at 5:33 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Interesting comments on the issue of personal accountability. As we see in some of the research we are talking about individuals who may have little self awareness and big egos and who have lost touch with being “authentic” leaders who do take accountability for their actions and the results coming from their actions. I think leaders do get blindsided to some degree as the higher up one goes in the organization or political postion the more narrow the channels of information are coming to them. Yes, it is lonely at the top if a leader chooses to have it so. Leaders who reach out for input and feedback are more likely to get a realistic take on themselves and what they have created, but then they have a decsion to make on whether to accept that feedback or not or to create a false reality. It’s all about choices. Leaders who operate with an “open door” policy” are fooling themselves because most people are intimidated to go out of their way to provide input to “the boss” as it may have a personal impact on their life or career.
    In Yiddish the term “mench” is an appropriate description here. A mench (aka a real person who does what you are supposed to do)understands reality and does not need to be prompted to take appropriate action. A mench is a person who is or becomes self aware and does not need to make excuses for his/her (yes, a mench can be a woman also) actions or the outcomes they produce. I think we need a movement where we only put menches into leadership roles. Can you image trying to test someone for the menchiness?

    Stan Cooper

    January 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm

  2. Leadership positions, many times, are filled by those not knowing or understanding their true interests in seeking the job. They find that out only after they’ve occupied the position for awhile. They grow into the leader they never thought they would be. Gorbachev is, first and foremost, a realist and, to put it in Yiddish terms, a Mench. He attained statesmanship only long after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Now, Jeffery, I’m going to take you to task. Why is President Barack Obama not mentioned in the cavalcade of politicians who blame outside forces when things don’t go their way? Or Senator Harry Reid? Or Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? Your bias is showing…big time. You are better than that. Please don’t allow political cause to infiltrate what is otherwise great quality public discourse.



    George Cernigliaro

    January 4, 2012 at 7:00 am

  3. […] that pervades the dialogue of every campaign ad and debate.  Jeffrey Saltzman had an interesting blog post recently in which he laments what appears to be a very pervasive case of the fundamental […]

  4. […] that pervades the dialogue of every campaign ad and debate.  Jeffrey Saltzman had an interesting blog post recently in which he laments what appears to be a very pervasive case of the fundamental […]

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