Category: Leadership

Excuses are a Career Killer

A friend of mine who is an senior executive said to me the other day, “Everyone has excuses for what they do or don’t do.  I would give a huge raise to any of my direct reports if they just did what they say they will do, period. No excuses, just get it done.”

Excuses are career killers.

what's your excuse?

When I was in graduate school I had a professor who gave points for participation in class. During the first 15 minutes of class he led a discussion and gave points to every student that participated in the discussion. One night I was flying back from a work trip and was late for class and missed the participation time. After class I explained to the professor that my plane was unexpectedly delayed, it was raining so traffic was extra heavy, yet I did everything in my power to make class on time and just missed the discussion period. The professor listened and responded, “I totally understand. Sounds reasonable.  Thank you for letting me know why you were late tonight.” Relieved that he accepted my excuses, I smiled and asked him if I could submit something next class to make up for missing the participation points. The professor smiled back and said, “No. You are either here for the discussion or not. I don’t accept any excuses.” Lesson learned for me.

That professor taught me a valuable lesson – when you make a commitment you either follow through on it or you don’t. There will always be a multitude of reasons (also called excuses) why we fail to follow through on a particular thing we said we would do, but in the end they really don’t matter. Many of us fail to achieve our goals and dreams because we fail to follow through. We say things like it was too hard, I tried but didn’t have enough time, I don’t know how, I didn’t know it would take so long, or I intended too but…

Regardless of how many excuses they could make, successful people know that it will not change the outcome. Even justified excuses will not make a project or person successful. When things go wrong, the successful person sees the opportunity, not a reason for quitting.  They own that it went wrong and get busy making it right.

Unsuccessful people spend a lot of energy and time making excuses – blaming others, the customer, the economy or even traffic. Even if the excuses are all true, it won’t improve the outcome. No matter how justified you are, never make an excuse for any outcome. Instead, just apologize.  If you can still deliver what you promised then do it immediately.  If the opportunity has passed, then plan a way to ensure that next time you will do what you say you will, period. This is the only way to long term success. Your career success is based on building a reputation of integrity, including delivering what you say you will.

If you want to achieve success others don’t, you must be willing to do what others won’t. Everybody around you may think it is acceptable to blame traffic for being late regularly. Instead, choose not to make that excuse. Change your routine, wake up earlier, take a different route – do whatever it takes.  Not making excuses is one of the most important disciplines you can develop. Managers consistently describe ‘following through and delivering what they promise’ as one of the key attributes for career success.

So the next time you decide to commit to do something, do it – don’t let ‘justified excuses’ trick you into thinking it is okay not to do what you committed to do. Be on time for meetings, call someone back when you say you will, show up for the team meeting fully prepared, do the homework you said you would, etc… If you practice keeping your word with little things at work everyday, you will quickly find others viewing you as someone who delivers, period. And that is worth gold.