A few weeks ago I attended a youth soccer game that my son, Isaac, refereed. For most of his life, Isaac has played travel soccer. He loves the sport and knows the rules of the game inside and out. It's not uncommon for Isaac to get emails from parents commending his refereeing skills. Suffice it to say, the kid knows what he's doing.

On this particular day,  a team in blue jerseys played against a team in red jerseys. The red team was clearly the better skilled team. Each time the blue team lost the ball or conceded a goal, the coach would yell at the referee, "That was a foul! He was offside!" When the blue coach wasn't yelling at the referee, he was yelling at his players.

Unfortunately, I see a similar behavior in business.

Making excuses versus getting results

When things begin to unravel, it's easy to lose your cool. For a coach, when mistakes are made, it's easy for him or her to admonish players or shout at the officials. We see that sort of thing happen all the time. Similarly, for a sales manager, when his team underperforms, it's easy to lay blame or underscore problems. It's easy to blame marketing, blame product development, or tell salespeople they should be converting more sales or losing less deals. That would be easy. The smarter thing to do, however, is for that manager to coach for better results instead of making excuses.

When things go sideways, winning coaches resolve to do what they do best: play to their strengths. They don't blame external circumstances or get distracted with things that are beyond their control. The best coaches and managers know this.

Which team are you on?

In the second half of the game, a player on the blue team grabbed the arm of an opposing player. When the player pulled away, the blue player lost his balance and fell down. Everyone could see the player in blue grabbing the player in red. Yet, when he fell, the blue player screamed, "This referee sucks. He doesn't know what he's doing."

I see a high correlation between teams who blame the referee and teams that lose. Coincidentally, in business, the same thing happens. The people who always blame some external condition -- the people who always point fingers and make excuses that something else happened and that's why they didn't achieve what they set out to achieve -- those people tend to never succeed.

The coach for the blue team begs for results. When something goes wrong, he blames something or someone he can't control - namely the referee. He's taught his players to do the same thing.

Saying, "Don't give the ball away," or "Don't let them score" is like telling your salespeople to "Sell more."  Or, it's like telling programmers to "Produce software with fewer bugs."

In your company, are you or your boss playing for the blue team or the red team?  

What can you control?

Instead of blaming the things you can't control, you have to say to yourself, "How do I put myself in a position where, even if external circumstance don't go my way or obstacles get thrown on my path, I'll find a way around them?"

On the soccer field, the player who was the most vocal complainer, failed to recognize that three times she had the ball within 3 yards of the goal with no one in front of her and failed to score. She missed the goal entirely. So, had she scored on two of those three opportunities, the red team would have won the game. Instead, the team lost by one goal and their explanation was that they lost because of bad officiating. Rather than asking herself, "I should have put those balls in the net, why didn't I?" she chose to blame someone else for her poor performance.

Winners resist from making excuses and laying blame on external circumstances; they learn from their mistakes; and worry about the things they can control.

That's a good lesson to learn -- in life and in business.

It's Your Turn

How do you respond when things don't turn out the way that you'd like? What elements do you think are needed to build a successful team? Share your thoughts on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the comments.

Published on: Oct 28, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.