Let Others Take Responsibility for Their Own Mistakes

This is the first post in a series where Women of HR share their thoughts and reactions to a manifesto, Six Rules Women Must Break In Order to Succeed.


Our fearless leader over here at Women of HR recently sent us a link to an awesome manifesto titled, Six Rules Women Must Break In Order to Succeed. The list includes provocative ideas such as taking center stage, being politically savvy, and playing to win.

I have a rule I’d like to add to the list and it’s a big one:

Care Less.

In this instance, by care I mean taking responsibility for anything outside your own purview and trying to fix, make better, help, show concern, or apologize for problem or issue that you did not create.

The fact is, women already apologize far more often than men. And we apologize for different reasons, often to convey sympathy rather than responsibility. Here’s a great example from dinner with my brother and sister last night. We were going to a football game and meeting the rest of our family. The waiter forgot to put in her order and then came back to discuss it as the rest of us were finishing the meal. She told him to forget it. He tried to argue with her about it, since he’d just put the order in.

My sister said, “I’m really sorry, but I had said I didn’t want that shrimp dish after all. We’re trying to get to a football game. Since you forgot to order the dish, everyone else is finished. Please cancel it.”

He brought it out ten minutes later. She said again, to the waiter: “Thanks, but like I said, we don’t want this shrimp now. I’m sorry.” He left it on the table as he went to get the check. The shrimp dish was on the bill.

My brother said to the waiter: “Hey, man, you screwed up. I guess you’re eating shrimp for dinner. But we’re not paying for it. And we don’t want to drag this doggy bag full of shrimp all over town tonight.”

Notice the difference?

My brother is not known to be especially assertive, but my sister is known to be particularly so, for a woman. And she still apologized twice for a mistake she didn’t make. My sister was trying to convey sympathy, but the waiter apparently heard responsibility – why would she apologize if she hadn’t somehow helped create the problem?

Care less. Apologize less. Or at least count the number of times you say, “I’m sorry,” compared to your male peers. Let people take responsibilities for their own mistakes. It won’t kill them. And continuing to care too much about the people around you might kill you. Or worse, send you driving home with a dish of shrimp scampi that has been sitting in your car for 3 hours on a hot Houston night.

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

Franny Oxford

Franny Oxford, SPHR is an HR leader for Texas entrepreneurs and privately held companies. Franny is committed to helping all members of the HR profession become better risk takers and stronger questioners of the status quo. Franny's wife is an RN and her 4-year-old daughter is a Princess. Or a Dinosaur. Or sometimes both. Franny blogs at Do the Work and you can connect with her on Twitter as @Frannyo.



Great advice! I’d add one thing: make sure you don’t read this as “never apologize”. Don’t apologize for others’ mistakes, but if something IS your fault, a great leader will own up to it, then move forward.


Great article! I know I’ve definitely been guilty of this from time to time, but it was something I recognized a while back and am working on changing. Of course I’ll apologize if the situation warrants it, but if it’s just to try and not hurt anyone’s feelings or convey sympathy like you cited, then it’s not necessary.


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