Finger-Pointing and Leadership Can Go Together

by Alli Polin on September 24, 2013

Leadership does not practice finger-pointing blame but points the way towards shared success

I’ve heard it a ton from clients, friends colleagues: finger-pointing is rampant not only on the school yard but also in our offices, homes, and social circles. They feel like someone is constantly pointing a finger at them for their dissenting opinions, wacky ideas, and blue sky thinking.  It’s squashing their soul, and they’re tired of it.  They’re tired of defending instead of engaging.  Tired of worrying about mis-steps instead of creating.  They’re most of all tired of people who are more worried about placing blame than identifying solutions.

We’ve all seen it, pointing fingers place blame countless times a day.  It’s as if our hands can magically protect us from bad publicity by drawing a big box around the wrong-doer with an invisible laser beam.

Here’s the truth:

Placing blame will never be the hallmark of a leader.  Leadership never shines by making someone else look bad. (Click to Tweet)

Let’s make a pact to stop pointing out all the trips and falls, and stumbles that people make and use our pointing power for good instead of evil.

Leadership does not wag the finger of blame but instead points people towards success.  How?  Start here:

Point People in the Right Direction

When people are lost, it does not automatically mean that they need to be told what to do.  Most people want to use their brains and be empowered to think for themselves but occasionally get sidetracked or overwhelmed or confused.  Step into your personal leadership by resisting the urge to save the day with your solution – not everyone needs saving.  Alternatively, share resources to help people discover the path to success rather than simply following yours.

Point Out Possibilities 

Stuck happens when you think you don’t have any other choice and more often than not, it feels terrible.  That “no options” feeling reduces engagement, motivation and overall happiness.  Be a leader that points out possibilities, brainstorms and creates space in lieu of closing doors.

Point Others Towards New Connections

I’m a firm believer that leadership happens through relationships and not because one person is super strong, smart or savvy.  Help others broaden their network and connections by making introductions and recognizing strengths.  You don’t need to have or know all the answers when you create a community of people who complement each other and are willing to invest time and effort in shared success.

Don’t hoard relationships; build bridges that others can cross even when you’re gone.  (Click to Tweet)

Point the Way Forward

It’s important that if you have a vision, you share it.  Without a shared vision, good work may get done, but it will rarely lead to exceptional outcomes.  You personal leadership shines when you show people where you’re going, why it matters and then let others be your partner to figure out how to get there.

Leaders: You point and then walk together.  (Click to Tweet)

Take Point for Issues and Challenges

Passing the buck is not a leadership trait to model for others.  When you point your finger in blame, that’s what’s happening.  Instead, point at yourself and take point to identify, own, and remove roadblocks that are stopping others from achieving success.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or the head of the household, by taking point, you free others up to be their best and stay focused on critical goals.

Leadership isn’t about you looking good, it’s about helping others be GREAT.  (and by the way, when that happens, everyone looks good.)  Make the leap from placing blame to fully knowing that success and failure are shared; not a solo act.

How do you point others towards success?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Lalita Raman September 24, 2013 at 6:04 am

Absolutely relevant points and topic and I like the way you have articulated.

Finger pointing and willful blindness is not going to pave the way forward.

Good post Alli. 🙂


Alli Polin September 24, 2013 at 6:30 am

Thanks, Lalita! There are a lot of ways that leaders can point people without pointing AT them in blame.


Lalita Raman September 24, 2013 at 11:37 am

Agree which is where your post stands out 🙂


Jon Mertz September 24, 2013 at 6:59 am

Great points (pun intended), Alli! I have taken Henry Cloud’s advice to heart and point them to focus diligently on the issue and go soft on the person. We need to keep our people relationships intact in order to solve challenges, move initiatives forward, and keep building more effective teams. Our focus needs to be on the issues while always building more productive relationships with the people involved.

Important reminders here with your post, Alli. Thanks! Jon


Alli Polin September 24, 2013 at 7:55 am

Sorry to say I have not read Henry Cloud’s work but just got done doing a bunch of googling and checking out Amazon too. That’s the heart of it: separating out the issue from the person. When we fail, we are not failures and it takes a strong leader to help us regain our confidence to achieve shared success.

Thanks, Jon!


Joy Guthrie September 24, 2013 at 8:24 am

So agree, Alli. Finger pointing is rampant. Let’s point our fingers at the finger pointers! (ha) Really well written. You make spot on recommendations. Thank you for targeting an important topic.


Alli Polin September 24, 2013 at 8:52 am

Ha! Love that, Joy! Point at the finger-pointers 🙂 Maybe what we need to do is hold up a mirror so they can see who we’re looking at when they try to point at others to land the blame. Appreciate your feedback on this spin and why it’s important that leaders point others towards success. Thanks, Joy!


skipprichard1 September 24, 2013 at 8:39 am

Clever, clever! That headline grabbed me and you did not disappoint. Well-done.


Alli Polin September 24, 2013 at 8:50 am

Thanks, Skip! Your feedback and sharing means a lot!


Terri Klass September 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Great title and picture, Alli! The post was a perfect way to demonstrate how pointing others towards the best ways to network or ways to blossom, is so rewarding.

It is so essential that when we do reach out to others, we don’t tell them what to think, but how to think and become more curiosity-driven. It can be hard to refrain from offering up all the solutions to a problem if we think it will save them time. Discovery is as important as the finding.

Thanks for another wonderful one!


Alli Polin September 24, 2013 at 9:06 pm

When we think we’re the only one with the answers, that’s where the trouble starts! Love that you wrote about helping others to learn to think vs do. I once worked for a leader that only wanted to work with people from specific universities. When I asked her why it was because she liked the way that they taught people to think and be curious.

Your contribution here and leadership truly matter to me, Terri! Thank you!


Chis Tracey September 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Your post reminded me of a demonstration from years ago… The presenter said, “When you point a finger of blame , take a look at your hand. Three fingers will be pointing back at yourself”. I like the idea of pointing the way forward to success. Thanks for sharing, will tweet forward. C.


Alli Polin September 24, 2013 at 9:03 pm

It’s a great image, Chris! When people are so quick to blame, they miss out on truly being a leader that owns mistakes and is responsible and accountable. Pointing the way forward is what it’s about. Many thanks for commenting and sharing!


Lolly Daskal September 24, 2013 at 10:59 pm

so clever! so fantastic!

Love the post!!!!!!!!



Alli Polin September 25, 2013 at 12:31 am

Thanks, Lolly! Means a ton!


Susan Mazza September 25, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Love this! Very clever, and very useful distinction Alli.

Here’s a possible one to add to the list of leadership finger pointing – Point out what’s working and who is doing great work.


Alli Polin September 25, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Fantastic addition, Susan! Absolutely! Pointing out what’s going right (instead of what’s going wrong) is critical! Moreover, recognizing people and pointing out their great work creates a culture where people want to be and do their best. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation!


LaRae Quy September 26, 2013 at 12:01 pm

When we blame others it’s usually because we are too selfish to take responsibility for a mistake ourselves.

When we point the finger at others when THEY make mistakes, we should treat them with the same gentleness we treat ourselves when we make mistakes (and own up to them). That means creating a culture of honesty, non-judgment, and positivity. Without the mistake or failure, how would we know where to focus our energy? By not looking at mistakes and failures as devastating, and instead, as a direction for exploration, our attitude towards others, and ourselves, changes for the more positive.


Alli Polin September 26, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Thank you LaRae for powerfully reframing the way we look at blame and mistakes as a place to explore, learn and grow. Yes, finger pointing in blame does not serve anyone but pointing out places to grow, successes and hard work makes a huge difference.


Dave Bratcher September 27, 2013 at 7:10 am

Fantastic stuff here Alli! I recently wrote about “Gotcha Leadership” This is the style of finding things team members are doing wrong and blasting them for it. Your post speaks of the opposite. I recently met with a client (nonprofit director) who was trying to find a way to get more participation from her board. The suggestion I had was to catch a board member exhibiting the behavior she desired and publicly praise it during the next board meeting. I truly believe others will do more of what they receive praise for.


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