I decided to do something different this week.

First of all, I am so eternally humbled and grateful for you and the other 10k+ leaders who subscribe to this newsletter. An extra thanks to all the people who contact me with their comments or questions (exceptin’ for the person who threatened to punch me in the face – you know who you are).

In my role as an executive coach and a fix-the-problems business consultant, I often get asked for help. So I decided to answer a couple of perplexing Letters to the Editor below.

There’s a little ditty about fault and responsibility, followed by a question around healthy work environments.

Enjoy, amigo.

fault responsibility

Fault vs Responsibility

Dear Jeff Matlow,

I am a leader at a SaaS company in Ohio. We had a big product launch recently from which I was expecting to gain a lot of traction. In the end, the product failed. I am trying to determine who’s fault it is. Can you help?

Here are the facts:

  • The Product and Development team were 6 weeks late with launch
  • The QA team missed a few important UI/UX issues.
  • The Marketing team only got 10% of expected leads.
  • The Sales team only closed $300k of a $2m budget.
  • And the customer support team didn’t meet their 24 hour response time so customers weren’t happy.

In the end..

  • The product team is blaming the dev team for delays.
  • The dev team is blaming the product team for complicating the design.
  • The QA team is blaming the marketing team for not understanding reality on planet earth.
  • The marketing team is blaming the dev team for not understanding how deadlines work.
  • And the sales team is blaming everybody because that’s what they do.

I feel like they all are correct but I need somebody to blame.

Who’s fault is it?

Confused in Columbus

fault responsibility boss

Dear Confused in Columbus,

Thank you for your letter. I appreciate you sending it, though I’m slightly disturbed that you included a birthday card for my daughter. How did you get our home address? How did you know it was her birthday? And you MUST stop texting me – it’s just plain creepy.

I’m sorry your product crashed and burned — bummer dude.

I completely understand your confusion about where to place blame, because everybody seems to have a pretty reasonable response for their failure.

Who was at fault?

Let me make the answer Crisco clear for you: everybody

Everybody was at fault.

However, fault is not your main problem in this scenario.

There is an important difference between “fault” and “responsibility” and you need to understand this.

Almost every failure in a company is rarely one person’s fault. Each department’s actions impact every other department’s actions, so essentially everybody can be considered at fault for almost everything.

Responsibility is different.

Fault is a domino toppling chain of errors.
Responsibility is part of a job description.

Fault usually involves multiple people who are involved in any given project.
Responsibility always falls on one – and only one – person.

Whereas several people can be mutually at fault for a product’s failure, only one person is responsible for meeting the department’s goals.

A baseball team has nine players in the game and each of them may be at fault when they lose. But it is only the pitcher who is responsible for striking out the batters. It is each individual player who is responsible for getting on base when they are at the plate. It doesn’t matter who is at fault when they fail to accomplish their goal – they have a goal and it’s their responsibility to achieve it.

To make this more complicated, sometimes the group of people who are at fault doesn’t even include the person who is responsible.

I know, it can be confusing for creepy stalker people like you.

Let’s look at your scenario.

Your developers were at fault for missing the deadline, but it is your tech lead who was responsible for delivering a quality product on time.

Similarly, your entire sales team is probably at fault for failing to close, but your sales lead is responsible for hitting the revenue goal.

Get it?

There’s one missing piece here, and that’s the part about all of the teams working together to make the product a success.

That failed. And each department is at fault for the product’s failure, but there is only one person responsible for the teams’ inability to work together effectively.

That person is you

So if you’re looking to place the blame, look in the mirror.

You are the one responsible for every department working in harmony and you failed to do so.

I hope the difference between fault and responsibility helps you with your confusion in Columbus.

Now stop stalking me.

– Jeff Matlow
The best leadership newsletter ever

fault responsibility

How I Change The Pickle Brained

Dear Jeff Matlow,

My boss is a huge, pickle-brained jerk.

He is extremely self-centered and doesn’t respect our time. He rarely shows up to one-on-one’s and his weekly staff meetings are a platform for him to blather on incessantly about himself.

He hires his family to work at the company even though they are useless and don’t get anything done. I wouldn’t be surprised if his pet chinchilla is on payroll.

Yes, he actually has a pet chinchilla. What kind of psychopath has a pet chinchilla? I don’t even know what a chinchilla is, but he is always mentioning “Harvey the chinchilla” in every g-ddamn conversation.

I digress.

There are three of us at the company who are clearly the most competent. We end up responsible for all the work that should be done by other people while everybody else just does nothing.

I’ve been here for five years and tried to help him be more level-headed but nothing has changed.

How can I create a less toxic work environment and get my boss to care about people?


Pickle Brained in Pittsburgh

fault responsibility boss

Dear Pickle Brain,

You’re looking at this all wrong.

The problem is not your boss. The problem is you. You are the problem, it’s you.

[Editor’s Note: The author suffers from Swift-itis and sometimes breaks out into Taylor Swift songs. We apologize.]

You are attracted to your work environment for reasons that only you can understand. If you are choosing to stay in a toxic culture, it’s important for you to ask yourself (maybe not out loud and not in public), “what is it about me that has me still working here?”

All due respect, Señorita Pickle Brain, but it sounds like you are remaining in a toxic environment because of some internal desire to fix other people. THAT is a problem.

There might be a couple of underlying reasons for this:

  • Need for Control: Do you need to feel the control of being able to alter others’ behaviors?
  • Low Self-Esteem: Do you need to change other people in order to validate your own beliefs?
  • Self-Worth: Do you feel you’re not good enough to work in a more healthy environment?

If you want some leadership coaching, go on and book some time for a free chat and maybe we can work through this.

Otherwise, it’s high time you stop worrying about how other people are acting and start exploring what your feelings about them are revealing about you.

In the immortal words of A. Nonymous, “When things change inside you, things change around you.

In the even more immortal words of Queen Elsa, “Let it go, let it go

Good luck to you… and Harvey the chinchilla.

– Jeff Matlow
The best leadership newsletter ever

Got A Question?

If you have a leadership or business-related challenge you would like help solving, and you’re open to being featured in the best leadership newsletter ever, describe your issue in the comments below or send a message to Jeff Matlow, business transformation consultant and leadership coach extraordinaire.

Contact me here.

All names will be kept confidential.
Except my name.
That’s not confidential.

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