you can’t get that shot, but that shot was not the problem

Thoughts on excuses and accusations in leadership.

moss [[oak]menil]Back in College I played a lot of racquetball tournaments and played on the Texas A&M racquetball team. I also coached a few hours a week, sometimes kids, sometimes other students, at the local gyms in College Station Texas. Every once in a while when coaching a newbie who threw me a floater in the middle of the court I’d crush it down the line or do a nice splat. The student would invariably look at me as if I had done something wrong exclaiming:

How am I supposed to GET THAT!?!?! You killed it! I can’t get that!

My answer was always the same.

You can’t get that shot. Nobody can. But THAT shot was not the problem. It was the shot before where you set me up that was the problem. The kill shot was just the part that hurt. Identify the real cause before you howl in indignation. Now lets work on not setting your opponent up, OK?

Running a business over the years I have found that two commonly used fallacies by employees (and by me!) are post hoc and non sequitur. Both of which are Latin phrases and sound all funny to me. How do they relate to business?

Example: an employee is late day after day after day. You work with them. Go through the usual discipline rigmarole. Think thoughts like “wow, they need a parent not a manager.” And eventually the day comes when you hold them accountable. The response:

I was on a church retreat this weekend and overslept today. And if you put work over God that is YOUR problem not mine. You are way out of line to put work over God and family!

It’s important to remember that the employee in this scenario ACTUALLY BELIEVES what they are saying. At a human level it is a mind-blowingly insensitive accusation against a fellow human being, but that is besides the point. The catch here is that “it does not follow.” This particular day it is the presenting problem; the floating ball in the middle of the court. The real issue is that they are late day after day. The accusation that the manager is a heretic bound for hell is simply the presenting problem. You, the manager, did nothing wrong.

Yet the employee believes what they said!

In my experience there is only one solution. Educate them on fallacies and communication BEFORE they use them on you. It doesn’t always work, but at least it might. Education is the first step.  Because common fallacies are, well, common. Read on my fellow leaders, and cut yourself some slack. It really isn’t you. It was the shot where they set you up that caused the problem.