40-Day Business Leadership Peak Performance Programme Day 5: Collect Excuses

This programme is for business leaders – if you own a business or manage a business you are a business leader. Whether you lead just yourself, a small team or a big team with a global reach. If you run a business – I don’t care  how big or small – your business will have problems that you are aware of. Therefore focus on your awareness on your list of problems. Collect problems. Get a list. Then start addressing some of them. Start with the obvious ones. Start with the small ones.

Leadership is muscle that has to be worked. You don’t go to the gym and go straight for the heaviest weights. I recently watched the weight lifting for the gold medal in Rio and they were pressing three time my body weight! You get the idea.

If you have got to Day 5 you know about Stop, Start, Continue and Collect Problems and make a list. If you didn’t do that benign activity then that is the problem you need to start with. Whatever you are doing with me on this course, is what you are doing in your business – mechanically. I know you are curious. I know you’ve heard some of this before. But if you don’t do the activities you are spectating and playing a game I call The Theory of Donuts.

I did my psych paper on behaviour modification and weight management. The most overweight people know the very simple rule: burn more calories than you consume. They know about the right foods to eat. They have books on their shelf about calories control. They’ve done courses and watched Youtube videos.  But they buy another book read it and then go buy donuts.

If you want to excel in leadership at any level – you have to lean in, get uncomfortable and do the activities – not just read and critique them.

I want you to accept as a given: you know more than me. Most people I work with are better qualified, smarter, more ambitious, in better shape, earn more money, have a bigger business, have sold more books, drive better cars and live in a nicer home than I do. Just accept that as a given. Bit if you are reading this something in your world isn’t working. It isn’t what you want or they way you want it.

Collect problems. What do you need to stop doing, start doing and continue doing?


Yesterday we got you a pretend job as a consultant at NASA and flew you to America to Florida and you went to the NASA Space Centre at Cape Canaveral where you met the head engineer of a new space shuttle program.

Then the head engineer took you out to the pre-launch site and when you got there the first thing you noticed was that the rocket … was upside down!

So now, you’re standing right next to the head engineer who is smiling proudly at the rocket. I want to know what goes through your mind and would you say something to the engineer?

And if so: What would you say? It’s not a trick question.

Highly effective leaders are aware of what’s happening and how they feel about what’s happening. It’s called awareness. It has two components – three actually – but the first two are situational awareness and the second bit is response awareness. The third bit is responding.

You cannot drop unwanted pounds unless and until you become aware.

Let’s be clear, I know very little I know about rockets but to my way of thinking launching an upside down rocket is a major disaster waiting to happen. You don’t need to be Einstein to know that if you fire this monster up the result will be a massive explosion that will have a devastating impact within a two mile radius and the effect will be felt anywhere up to a ten miles away.

It is rocket science!

So would you ask something like, “Why’s the rocket upside down?” I would! You might ask something similar like, “Why’s the rocket like that? Is that how its meant to be?” And so on.

I want an explanation.

Now the answer will be some variation on, “It’s upside down because …” Understand, whatever comes next is either a good reason, a story or an excuse to explain the upside down rocket.

I’ve given lots of groups the upside down rocket problem and asked them to generate a list of possible reasons. There might be 17 reasons … or  51 reasons … or 168 reasons that explain why the rocket is upside down.

But then I get them to sort all those explanations into key themes or categories. How do those reasons cluster?

A lot of research has gone into identifying what makes a good leader. There are hundreds of theories but they cluster down to two variables: task and relationships.

Task means you can get things done. Relationships means you can get people to help you get things done. You know leaders who get things done that kill every relationship; and you know leaders who have great relationships but don’t achieve much. Do good leadership is a balance of those two basic factors.

But back to the rocket and why its upside down. I’ve found that they consistently come up with about five to seven key categories. For example:

1. The Plausible Explanation

Let’s pretend the engineer says something like:

“Relax. Come round the back. The rocket is mounted on a massive rotating arm. So right now it’s in that downward position so the maintenance crew can safely complete all the pre-launch maintenance. See even though those massive fuel tanks are empty right now, they still might contain ignitable vapours. If one of our technicians is working with electrical or oxy-welding gear there could be a massive fire or an explosion. To prevent that from happening we invert the rocket. This means any vapours are rising upwards.

“This is something the general public NEVER gets to see. We don’t show this routine because it would be quite distressing given the space shuttle disasters.

“But rest assured, prior to launch, the rocket will be safely rotated back into an upright position again – pointing upwards – and fully ready for take-off.”

So, would you feel OK with this explanation? It sort of makes sense, right? It sounds plausible … enough, doesn’t it? It feels about right.

The opposite is …

2. The Implausible Excuse (also called The Lame Excuse or the Plain Stupid Excuse)

“The reason we invert the rocket is because we are going to see if you can launch a rocket using the reverse thrusters.” “Really?” Sounds plain stupid, right? What about …

3. The Oversight or OMG! Reaction

But what if the engineer said: “Oh my God! You’re right! How did this happen!!! How did I miss this?”

This scenario might sound plausible – “Oops I made a mistake.” But it sounds incredulous. How could so many qualified technicians have overlooked such an obvious mistake? How could anyone not notice the rocket is pointing upside down?

It’s actually not that hard to believe. I work with a lot of very savvy business people who have really obvious ‘upside down rockets’ in their business … and their life … happening right under their very noses! They are just too close to the situation, so they miss the obvious.

Some upside down rockets are obvious and in plain sight like Ron’s late paying customers. Or David’s overeating. Both a stress and even a disaster waiting to happen.

But if the head engineer said this – and they were dead serious – I’d be very worried.

OK, try this one.

4. The Whatever … (I don’t care) Reaction

What if they engineer said: “Whatever. (Shrug). They don’t pay me enough to care.” (Shrug).

It may not be worth caring about – to him – but I’m sure you might have a big problem with being that close to the rocket when they decide to launch it! I know I’d certainly get as far away as possible from this on launch day. I bet you know people who just don’t care.

5. The Denial

What if they engineer said: “What do you mean? That’s how it’s supposed to be, isn’t it? You’re wrong.  There’s no problem here. Are you a qualified space engineer? That’s how it is supposed to be. There’s nothing wrong. You’re wrong!”

No matter what you said … they disagree. They are totally convinced they are 100% right … and you are 100% wrong. You’ve worked with people like this. They are never wrong even if the evidence is overwhelming that they are. Quite often it is associated with …

6. It’s not my fault! You can’t blame me. It’s someone else’s fault. It’s your fault for raising the issue! Its your fault. You’re to blame.

And: “Its not my fault. I’m not in charge of rocket positioning. It’s not me, You can’t blame me.” You’ve worked with people like this too.

7. The Uncertain Excuse

In this case you genuinely lack knowledge and experience so you really don’t know what the right way actually is. Quite often my clients don’t know what to do. I’m working with a client right now who has a production manager who is a constant source of trouble and aggravation. They know they need to ‘rotate’ him out of the production managers role (to put it euphemistically) but they are unsure about the fallout under labour laws. They lack knowledge and experience.

8. The More Important Excuse/ I was busy

In this case the excuse is you are fully aware of the problem but there are other things taking higher priority. Things competing for your attention. This can be legitimate or otherwise. In any case, if you are aware of an issue you can’t attend to perhaps you need to communicate that awareness to someone who can deal with the issue.

All of the above are possible responses. And there are probably others I haven’t thought of. I’m just throwing ideas out there. But you will discover that the list of possible excuses is a very short list. You need to become aware of those excuse categories because their will be a pattern to them in your business. Some might already be showing up regularly in your business and your life.

You can learn a lot about how other people react to or explain problems.

Let’s be clear if the explanation doesn’t sound plausible to you … then as far as I’m concerned the upside down rocket is a problem. So it has to be addressed.

Your list of problems are like upside down rockets. Some are minor and some are quite serious. And we all have a way of explaining our problems.

  • David would say, “I am overweight because …”
  • Ron says, “Customers pay their bills late because …”
  • Kevin says, “I yell at my staff because …”
  • Ian says, “I lend tools to apprentices because …”

Firstly, what ever you say next is your explanatory style. I employed staff who were experts at explaining away non-performance. I just learned to collect their excuses.

“Why aren’t customers buying …?”


What can happen is we simple accept excuses as true. We do not test the credibility or veracity of the excuse anywhere near thoroughly enough. Some excuse are plausible but some simple do not stand up to close scrutiny. Anyone who has been in court because of a workplace death will know this. Lawyers collect problems and excuses. To make it easier to understand they categorise those excuses then test the veracity of those excuses.

You know people who make excuses and they believe their excuses are 100% accurate. They need to be tested.

When I was doing my psychology degree we studied the scientific method and the fair test. It goes something like this:

  • If X is true, what makes it true?
  • If X is false, what makes it false?
  • If X is maybe, what makes it maybe?

Whatever you answer is an hypothesis that has to be tested. In science you have to disprove what they call the null hypothesis. If the hypothesis is this drug is good for you, then the null hypothesis is, this drug is not good for you. You have to assume something is false. It’s a tedious process but I am so glad we have this approach for things like new drug testing and aviation safety.

You have to assume something is false. Its tedious but I am so glad we have this approach for things like new drug testing and aviation safety.

The point is this: Your brain throws up excuses left, right and centre for why things happen or don’t happen that seem true but very few are tested with any rigour. For example, “You can’t fire people who are bad at their job.” I would ask, ‘Because …”

Understand: you will act in accordance with what you believe to be true.

So if Days 2 and 3 were about collecting problems, then today is about collecting excuses. Pay attention to how you explain stuff to others … and yourself. Listen.

As a coach, that’s what I get paid to do.


So you’re homework today is to pick one of your minor problems and think of all the reasons why you think or feel you have that problem. And today, listen for excuses!

Click here for the podcast

Andrew Priestley is a qualified business leadership coach with clients worldwide. He is the author of The Money Chimp, Starting and How Money Flows Through Your Business. You can contact him through www.andrewpriestley.com

Please feel free to share the link and please leave feedback and constructive comments.


It goes without saying that this is for information only and The Author  cannot be held responsible for any losses or damages that occur as a result of reading this material.

© 2017 Andrew Priestley/TCE Ltd

Leave a Reply