Have you ever heard the Story of the 3 Letters? I decided to tell my own version in the following vlog as lead-in to a discussion on scapegoating.

Story of the 3 Letters

A young manager is going through a job transition with an outgoing manager. The outgoing manager cryptically imparts his wisdom in the form of 3 letters. The instructions are simple: The first time “stuff hits the fan”, open the first letter. Open the second letter for the second incident, and open the third letter for the third incident.

The young manager gets a great start on his new job, but then reality sets in – and problems come up. As the pressure starts to mount, the manager remembers the three letters. He goes back to his desk and opens the first letter – which reads…

Blame Your Predecessor!

This sounds like a great idea to the young manager. Heck, the old manager isn’t even around to defend himself! Company management buys the excuse, and the young manager is back to smooth sailing…for awhile. But business has a way of getting complicated, problems arise, and the young manager finds himself in hot water again. In desperation, he goes back to his desk and opens the second letter – which reads…

Blame Your Employees!

The young manager is reluctant to do this, but this is his neck we are talking about here! Either the employees take the fall or he does, so he tells management that he doesn’t have the right resources. Management buys his story, and he cleans house and hires new employees. This reorganization buys him a lot of time because he has brand new employees to ramp up. But the young manager never addressed the root causes for a lot of his problems, and “stuff hits the fan” again. The manager goes to the desk for his salvation and opens the third and final letter – which reads…

Prepare 3 Letters!

The moral of this story is that you eventually run out of scapegoats! If you always look to blame others, or blame extenuating circumstances, you eventually run out of targets for your finger-pointing.

Who is YOUR Scapegoat?

Denver had two likely scapegoat candidates within the last year:

  • The Denver Broncos rolled through the 2012 regular season, and they captured the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs. They then lost to the underdog Baltimore Ravens, in Denver, because of their fear of failure. Fans demanded that Coach John Fox be fired because his ultra-conservative play-calling contributed to the playoff loss.
  • The Denver Nuggets had a special basketball season in 2012/2013, and they won the most games in franchise history. They secured the #3 seed, and home-court advantage, only to lose the playoff series to an incredibly hot-shooting Golden State Warriors team. I avoided listening to sports radio for a week because I knew what the average fan would be saying. Sure enough, they are still talking about how they want George Karl fired,and they will beat that drum through a long offseason.

In both of these cases, the teams lost in the playoffs – not individuals! To date, cooler heads prevail in both organizations, and both coaches deservedly retain their jobs.

Who is YOUR scapegoat? We’ve all had them. Perhaps we blame our parents, our spouse, our kids, our boss, our friends and neighbors. At some point in our lives, situations go off track, and we look around to find out who or what is to blame. Maybe you had the worst possible scenario: YOU became the scapegoat for someone else. It’s a terrible feeling, right? In some cases, it can be hard to recover both reputation and confidence.

Let’s hear your stories, your case studies, and perhaps your success stories as you either (1) chose to remain team-minded vs pointing a finger, or (2) recovered after someone set you up to take the fall.

Meanwhile, enjoy the story-telling below.