How Blaming Your Boss Hurts Everyone (Including Yourself)

Blame DIlemma New Size

Effective leadership is crucial for the success of any organization. Leaders must make decisions, guide their teams, and take responsibility for the outcomes. However, when leaders start blaming their higher-ups, such as their boss or CEO and claim to be mere followers of orders, it can significantly weaken their position and undermine their effectiveness. In this article, we will delve into scientific research and evidence from organizational psychology, along with real-life business case examples, to explore the detrimental impact of blame-shifting on leadership and organizational performance.

The Psychology of Blame:

Organizational psychology research highlights the phenomenon of “attribution theory,” which focuses on how individuals attribute success and failure in different situations. When leaders publicly blame their higher-ups for decisions or outcomes, they indulge in external attribution, which absolves them of responsibility. This behavior can foster a culture of excuse-making and hinder accountability at all organizational levels.

The Leadership Erosion Effect:

Blaming superiors can erode a leader’s authority and credibility among their subordinates. Leaders who take charge and inspire confidence in their decisions are the most respected and influential in a system. By shifting the blame upwards, they risk appearing weak and indecisive, leading to decreased trust and respect from their team members.

Real-life Example: Enron Scandal

One of the most infamous corporate scandals, the Enron debacle, saw leaders engaging in blame-shifting to cover up fraudulent activities. The company’s top executives blamed lower-level employees and their auditors, claiming they were merely following orders. This tactic led to the company’s downfall and caused a significant loss of trust in corporate leadership.

Impact on Organizational Culture:

Leaders who blame their superiors can create a toxic culture within the organization. When employees see their leaders avoiding accountability and pointing fingers, they may follow suit, leading to a culture of finger-pointing and passing the buck. Such a culture hampers collaboration, stifles innovation, and damages employee morale.

Deteriorating Decision-Making:

Leaders who constantly blame their bosses may hesitate to make critical decisions for fear of repercussions. This indecisiveness can hinder timely action and inhibit progress within the organization.

Real-life Example: Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

In the Volkswagen emissions scandal, some leaders blamed the company’s corporate culture and pressure from higher-ups for manipulating emissions test results. The scandal damaged the company’s reputation and led to a lack of confidence in its leadership’s ability to make ethical decisions.

Diminished Employee Engagement:

Blame-shifting leaders often fail to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of their team members. This lack of recognition can decrease employee engagement and disillusionment among the workforce.

Real-life Example: Sears Holdings Bankruptcy

Sears Holdings’ decline and eventual bankruptcy are due to its leadership’s inability to take responsibility for strategic missteps. Leaders blamed external factors, such as e-commerce giants, for their troubles, leading to low employee morale and disengagement.


Effective leadership requires accountability, decisiveness, and a commitment to driving positive change. Leaders who blame their superiors for decisions or outcomes appear weak, undermining their effectiveness and authority. Organizational psychology research and real-life business case examples illustrate the detrimental impact of blame-shifting on leadership and corporate culture. To foster a thriving organization, leaders must embrace accountability, take ownership of their decisions, and lead by example, inspiring trust and confidence among their teams.

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