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The Blame Game: An Interview with Author Ben Dattner

Greetings dear reader! Every so often over the next few months I’ll be interviewing authors of business books I recommend, all of whom are affiliated with Karlin Sloan & Company. We have an amazing network of world-class executive coaches and consultants, and it’s high time we’ve highlighted them on this blog. First up, my colleague Ben Dattner, the author of The Blame Game.

What is your book – The Blame Game – about?

Credit and blame are at the very heart of organizational psychology, and help determine whether individuals learn and grow in their careers or derail, whether teams take an open minded approach to the challenges they face or succumb to the temptation to scapegoat and blame, and whether entire organizations have cultures of trust and problem solving or instead waste time and effort on dysfunctional finger pointing. Unfortunately, as the economy has tanked there has been a “bull market” in blame. Whether it’s financial bailouts or oil spills, it seems every time one turns on the television there is some executive testifying before Congress on some topic or other, blaming other organizations rather than taking any accountability. This culture of blame permeates far too many organizations these days, and the result is that organizations fail to motivate their people, to innovate, or to acknowledge and fix deficiencies.

What got you excited to write it? Who were you writing it for?

As an organizational psychologist, every time I work with a client organization, the dynamics of credit and blame are what everyone is focused on. My role as a consultant and coach is to help individuals, teams, and entire organizations to reconsider their understanding of credit and blame, in order to stop negative cycles of blame and to create positive cycles of trust and collaboration. I wrote the book for anyone, at any stage of his or her career, who is interested in understanding the irrational but powerful forces that influence how credit and blame are assigned and reacted to.

What makes a bad business leader?

CEO’s like “Teflon” Tony Heyward of BP, and Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers both had developed reputations for assigning blame in a self-serving, responsibility-denying manner even before their respective organizations confronted crisis. The ill will they generated inside and outside of their organizations led to the end of their leadership, and in the case of Fuld, the end of the organization that he lead. Critics have also claimed that Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, also got into trouble when she didn’t take personal responsibility for the company’s performance.

What makes a great business leader?

Great leaders set a personal example for managing the dynamics of credit and blame in an open and positive manner. Great business leaders are mindful about the dynamics of credit and blame, and try to maximize credit and minimize blame. Great leaders make the pie larger, while average or poor leaders remain overly focused on what slice of the pie they are getting. Successful leaders, teams, and organizations are able to fight the blame game, and to create environments where people are more focused on admitting mistakes and fixing things rather than on deflecting blame or trying to hoard credit.

Based on your research and experience, what tips do you have for our Good Business audience?

There is an entire chapter that outlines specific things that individuals, organizations, and organizational leaders can do to make things better. These suggestions include tools to diagnose and evaluate one’s own credit and blame challenges and opportunities, as well as those of others. In addition to specific evaluative tools, this chapter also provides general advice about how to manage credit and blame for oneself and others in a more mindful and strategic way. This chapter should help individuals at every stage of their careers think in a new way about how they react to credit and blame, and how they assign it to others, and should help organizations and organizational leaders think in a new way about how the social psychology of the workplace can be understood and improved.

What’s next for you?

I’m not sure, beyond continuing to apply what I learned in researching and writing the book in my coaching and consulting practice. I’ll welcome any additional suggestions from you or your readers!

Where can readers learn more about your book?

Thanks Ben!

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