Probably one of the most recognized, overused and abused break-up lines of all time, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
For all of the Seinfeld fans out there, you will recall that in one episode, Jason Alexander’s character, George Costanza, actually claimed that he invented this break-up maneuver when one of his love interests used the very same line on him when trying to end the relationship. And I know that many people still use this line or tactic to end relationships or let others down easy, or maybe both.
I like the line for a different reason. Forgetting the overused and abused relationship and break-up analogy for a moment, how often have we used the very same line when deflecting blame for something we have done or have not done? Do we take accountability and own it, “It’s not you, it’s me?” Or do we reverse it and place the problem squarely on someone else, “It’s not me, it’s you?”
I much prefer the original version, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Personal accountability is the first rung on the ladder of success. And it is not just when something has gone horribly wrong or where there is an opportunity to place or accept blame, it is also true when given an opportunity or challenge to tackle a big project or task. Strong leaders use this tactic all the time. And they use it in a couple of ways, one to lead by example and the other to give a team member a chance to step up and demonstrate a competency or capability.
In the example of leading by example or leading from the front, a good manager or leader may recognize that there is an opportunity for a teaching moment and they jump in and say, “Wait a minute, it’s not your turn yet, let me demonstrate this for you one more time, OK?” And then they show their employee or team member the proper way to execute a specific job or function. Especially when there could be a safety concern.
And conversely, the employee may feel that they are ready to demonstrate their readiness and capabilities and use the very same line, “I’ve got this boss, it’s not you, it’s my turn.” And so the strong leader allows their team member to try. This is another teaching moment, just moving from the “doing” of everything for everyone, to “giving” an opportunity to learn and grow.
But even if we do reverse it, “It’s not me, it’s you,” this too can be used when a coach or leader calls upon an employee or team member to step up because they know that they are ready to give something a shot. “It’s not me this time, it’s you, it’s a big project but I am confident you can handle it.” Both situations allow for growth, ownership, success and creating a solid foundation to build upon.
It’s only in times of blame or difficulties when we reverse the line and fall back on the comfortable crutch of “It’s not me, it’s you,” that we stifle growth in ourselves and others as we deflect ownership and accountability.
How have you used the line? Is it you? Or is it someone else? Either way, I would love to hear all about it at goto email@example.com, and let’s make this a better than good week.
Michael Norton is a strategic consultant, business and personal coach and motivational speaker, and CEO of www.candogo.com. He writes a weekly motivational column for the Vail Daily.