Being the Oyster: An Alternative to the Blame Game


As business leaders, it’s easy to label someone that works for or reports to us as a “troublemaker” or a “problem.” For one thing, it gets us off the hook. We’re not to blame; the other guy is. For another, it fuels the idea that the power to change our lives lies outside of us. If the circumstances in which we live were different, then we would be different; presumbly, happier. So we blame our subordinates for our own unhappiness and with subtle and not-so-subtle means, we try to change them. This strategy might work for the short-term; we may get this person to alter his or her behavior (so it’s more pleasing to us). But usually when we invest our energies in those that follow us with the hope of bettering our own lives, we will experience repeated disappointments and frustration.


Why? Because our subordinates must act out of their own initiative. We can invite them, inspire them, support them, alert them to another mode of behavior, perhaps even one that would please us, but we can’t make them do it. Not really. They may acquiesce, but acquiescing is not the same as committing. Besides, we might not get the change we desire. “OK, I’ll do it,” she says, though somehow we have the sneaking suspicion that the arrangement isn’t as “clean” as it appears. Something is lurking in the shadows that could eventually come back to haunt us.   


As business executives, “troubles” or “problems” in our professional life are inevitable. There isn’t much we can do about it. As the blues song goes: “You don’t have to go looking for trouble; trouble will find you.” It doesn’t matter what sort of life we lead or how successful we’ve become or been in the past; difficult situations arise; our path becomes a rocky road and we’re faced with two, perhaps three choices: 


  • Will we project our “difficulty” onto another person and describe him or her as the obstacle to our happiness or success? 
  • Will we interpret this “trouble” as a threat to our survival? 
  • Or will we accept our present challenging circumstance as an invitation to further our own professional growth?


Here’s the clincher: the power to change our lives lies within ourselves. By taking complete responsibility for our own role in any “troubling” situation in which we find ourselves, we free ourselves from the “us versus them trap.” The prison of opposition melts away; the bars of our cell dissolve, and what we’re left with is an opportunity to bring greater happiness and success into our own and the lives of those we lead.


As Black Belt Leaders, when something arises that doesn’t please us, we can learn from the oyster, who takes that irritating grain of sand that enters its shell and transforms it into something of real value.