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“I’m Sorry, But…”

Angie Morgan, January 16, 2017


I'm Sorry, But...

Excuses only satisfy the person who delivers them.

I can remember the early days of Marine Corps training. These aren’t fond memories: Sergeant Instructors barking orders, endless sets of pushups, never-ending formation runs, and the constant sensation of feeling dirty, sweaty and smelly. There’s something else that happens during training that’s seldom talked or written about – a tight restriction of your vocabulary.

Your Sergeant Instructors make it very clear from Day 1 that you aren’t allowed to refer to yourself in first person – you can’t say “I” or “Me.” When asked a question, you can say “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” “No excuse, sir,” or “This Candidate doesn’t know but will find out, sir.

So, if you’re standing in formation during rifle inspection, and the Sergeant asks you why your weapon is dirty, you might want to say: “Seriously? You don’t know? We were out all day doing tactical exercises in the mud. We just got back from training and you expect my rifle to be clean? Seriously?

But you can’t. The correct answer to that question is: “No excuse, sir.” During training, this is maddening because every missed expectation or mistake has an explanation. But when you’re done with training and go into the Corps, excuses and explanations can frustrate the situation, waste time, and even cost lives.

I didn’t appreciate growing up in a “no excuses” culture until I left the military and transitioned to the private sector. What was immediately surprising about this new environment was how frequently the phrase “I’m sorry, but …” was used as an excuse for poor performance, such as:

  • I’m sorry I’m late, but my previous meeting ran over.
  • I’m sorry you didn’t get the right delivery, but our shipping person is new.
  • I’m sorry that the payment didn’t arrive, but our AP just doesn’t know what they’re doing.
  • I’m sorry you’re not happy with your customer service, but that’s how we do things around here.

You’ve likely been on the receiving end of an “I’m sorry, but …” Annoying, right? You might have even delivered one recently. (Hey, I’ll admit it – I recently caught myself running late to a dentist appointment and offered up this shoddy excuse.)

The goal for each of us is to get away from offering excuses and get to the point where we do the hard work, which is being accountable for our performance and understanding what we can do differently or better next time to get to a more optimal result.

Demonstrating accountability to the above situations can look like this:

  • The next time you have a tight schedule, tell the meeting planner that you have a hard stop at the top of the hour and that you’ll need to get to your next appointment.
  • Check in with the shipping person and share with them the information about the recent wrong delivery. Ask them what you could do better next time to avoid the screw up.
  • Talk to AP about the payment and its due date and see if there’s anything you can do to ensure the payment is made on time.
  • If customer service isn’t meeting expectations, figure out how you can change the way things have always “been done around here.”

In SPARK, we have an entire chapter dedicated to accountability. Not only can you learn more about how to demonstrate it, but also understand some of the psychological and physiological barriers that make it hard to be accountable during times that matter most. We also will provide you with resources for understanding where accountability can serve you best in your life.

At Lead Star, we’re on your side. We’re committed to supporting you on your leadership journey.

Become an Accountable Leader

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