The Book Of Excuses: Throw it Away!

As a business, results-focused, coach for Owners and Executives, I come across what I lovingly call “The Book of Excuses” on a daily basis. I have to tell you it’s a long book, containing many ways to make excuses, and a list of great excuses that can be used – and there does not appear to be any copyrights on these excuses! It covers almost every situation imaginable, and somehow convinces every reader that everything is unique just for them.

Excuses can be simple or complex, technical or non-technical, highly practical or out-of-this-world. It advises on how best to use the excuses whether it be matter-of-fact or emotional, data-driven or concept-oriented, tried-and-true or something supposedly unique. With regular practice, and a bit of trial and error, most people can becomes masters of the excuse. But why?

There seems to be something in the human psyche that when confronted by a challenge, a task or anything that remotely feels tough, our minds automatically jump to making excuses. It seems to be a reaction rather than conscious thought, and is often unknown to the speaker. We are then convinced by our own excuses and in fact seek to defend our position with gusto. All the while our mind is telling us we are still a good person even although we are in effect in a state of closed negativity. So can anything be done about this natural human reaction, and is it worth the effort for ourselves personally and for our organizations?

As a former Vice President of Sales for a busy company, I often found myself having a queue of people outside my office. I likened it to a Doctor’s surgery waiting to see patients. Each patient would come in and express their own problem of the day, wait patiently and expect me to provide medication (a solution). I did this for years and felt very important. I knew the organization needed me! Then one day I realized I had great staff and I have unconsciously trained them not to think – wow. It was time for a change. I created this simple to implement little process that changed my entire management style, positively empowered my Staff and took a considerable amount of stress off me. It also freed up a significant amount of my time. Try this easy to implement 5-step process for yourself:

Inform your Staff to stop using the negatively-charged word problem and instead use the positively-charged and motivational word challenge: “bring me a challenge not a problem.”

Encourage them to spend some quality time on their own to more fully understand what the issue is so they can communicate it more completely.

Ask them to bring at least one solution to the “challenge” and be able to explain why it is a credible solution.

Alert them that you will positively ask questions about the challenge and their solution in equal measure.

Resist giving them the answer (your answer) but instead use it as a way to discover together different possible solutions.

With a consistent approach you will begin to see your staff becoming more empowered, more positive, with a stronger can-do attitude developing in your team. You will have less queues outside your office, recreate the fun element of your role, and create much needed time to think about your next big chess move for continuing company growth.

Now, excuses as we know can build on one another, so it is especially important in meetings to identify an approach that can be used consistently to encourage creative brainstorming, positive team re-enforcement, and ultimately exceptional solutions. Consider some of these tips for running your meetings: –

Think before you talk: ask everyone to coat-check their Reptilian Brain – the part of the brain that responds but does not think. Leave it outside the meeting room. Also remember to buy an extra second of thought by taking a breath before you respond.

Ask clarification questions: resist the urge to jump in with what you think is the perfect solution. Instead choose to ask more questions and explore topics with more rigor.

Develop lines of discussion since the best solution is not always immediately evident until explored more deeply.

1 problem – 1 solution: consider asking everyone to add one solution for every problem (“challenge”) that gets identified. You will likely collect a lot of possible solutions that may prove useful.

“Man on the moon” check: stop people from being discouraged with perceived or real problems. Often placing the problem in perspective can kick-start solution finding. My own favorite is the saying “they sent a man to the moon you know – now that was really hard!”

Outcome visioning: when meetings are getting bogged-down, try lifting everyone’s spirits by sharing your vision of what the success outcome will look like. Oft-times aligning on the outcome in enough detail can create sparks of creativity and convince the team to positively strive for solutions and so not adding more problems to the mix.

Challenge assumptions: someone once said that assumptions were the arch-enemy of creating good, lasting solutions. Encourage the team to actively uncover and discuss assumptions. Through these discussions alignment can happen quickly, and often solutions become evident when assumptions are aired, discussed and agreed upon.

Removing excuses as an approach in yourself and your team takes time. It takes courage and time to openly share with people the fact they are making regular excuses, and it takes discipline and time to patiently wait for change. If you are up for the task, you will be all but guaranteed remarkable changes in both people and performance.

You will move from being a player to a more valued player-coach. You will more easily identify trends in the business and be afforded time to reflect on the big challenges that lie ahead. You will be better able to align your team and be seen as a leader of people and of the business. And your job will become a hugely positive area of your life that can have positive impacts in all areas of your life.

Consider having fun with this concept, and creating your own personal, department or company Book of Excuses. You will quickly find some real gems that will make you laugh. In meetings set a bell off every time someone makes an excuse. Ask your Staff if they have heard any good excuses lately. And of course take every opportunity to highlight the significant benefits of positive, pro-active thinking and realizing after all there is no such thing as a problem, since every problem is really an opportunity waiting to be solved. With the right mindset you and your team can solve each and every one of them in a positive, efficient and competitive way.

Lastly, if you don’t have the latest copy of “The Book of Excuses” please don’t ask me – I would only say no and have to make up an excuse! Now that would be on page 272 🙂

By Joe Connelly

Joe Connelly is Founder & CEO of, a worldwide Executive Sales Coaching and Consultancy company, with offices in Canada and Switzerland. Joe can be reached at [email protected]