Eclipses, Excuses + You

  1. April 2nd, 2024  | 

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Published in Accountability, Event

The total or partial blockage of the sun is so unusual these celestial events have inspired both fear and wonder among people throughout time, including when darkness fell over the earth following the crucifixion of Jesus.

You also may have learned the word “eclipse” is derived from the ancient Greek noun ékleipsis, which means “the abandonment,” “the downfall,” or “the darkening of a heavenly body.”

The word “eclipse” is also used in non-scientific connections to minimize the excitement of an event or diminish the importance of a person. We may say, for example, that one person’s performance was eclipsed by that of another’s.

And that brings us to the topic of excuses.

When the performance of star employees routinely eclipses the performance of those around them, excuses can sprout in your workplace culture as employees who don’t care to give their best and those who just don’t have the capacity to perform their jobs seek to attach blame elsewhere.

So while eclipses may be rare, excuses have been with us since Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake.

Blaming others or even circumstances rarely works as a long-term solution. Yet we’ve been pointing fingers at everything and everyone but ourselves since the dawn of time. And we’ve been struggling with accountability for just as long.

Like anything worthwhile, a great workplace culture is the product of intention, design and steady work.

In my bestselling book Accountability, I observe that part of what makes accountability difficult is that when you’re working with smart people and things don’t get done well or on time, you’re often handed excuses. Here’s what lack of accountability sounds like:


  • I rush from one fire to the next, so there’s no time to work on my project.
  • Our deadlines are unrealistic.
  • The deadline was unclear.
  • I spend my time doing my boss’s work.
  • I spend my time doing work my colleagues should be doing.
  • I spend my time on things that are not my highest value work.
  • We’re always in a hurry, so we hurry, then we make mistakes, then we must do the work again.
  • There’s no sense of urgency around here.
  • I ran out of time.
  • His performance will improve with time.


  • We don’t have the right people / enough people / enough of the right people.
  • I won’t be liked if I confront performance issues.
  • I can’t control the results of people who don’t report to me.
  • I didn’t know I was allowed to make that decision.
  • I didn’t understand the assignment.
  • Recent changes prevent me from getting things done.
  • People here aren’t team players.
  • She’s a family member and the rules don’t apply to her.
  • Good people are leaving and the bad ones are staying.


  • We underprice what we sell so we can’t staff properly for what we’ve agreed to deliver.
  • We can’t agree on priorities so our budgets are spread too thin.
  • Our customers beat us up on price so we can’t possibly charge more.
  • We’re constantly being asked to do more with less, including more work for the same salary.
  • Our best people are leaving for more money.
  • Money is tight so we can’t hire the people we need.

Your job as a leader is to determine the conditions hindering performance and then resolve them.

Here are three places to look: Hill, Will and Skill.

Hills are barriers that prevent people from being their best. When leading strategic planning sessions, I use an exercise called “Deal the Cards” that helps leadership teams pinpoint the most significant barriers hindering high performance. The idea is that if you’re getting reasons for substandard performance, remove the reason that’s causing the performance problem. If you’re interested in this exercise, email me at for the exercise.

Next is “will.” A person’s will or passion is observable but not really coachable. You may be able to incent someone’s behavior but you cannot incent their passion. So your conversations with an underperformer should focus on helping them confirm the type of work that excites them and, if that type of work does not fit your workplace, helping them develop a plan to leave your company and find the work they enjoy.

Skill issues are coachable—but only when these three factors exist:

  1. Honesty. The person being coached must own the fact their performance is falling short of expectations. Without honesty, any attempts at coaching will be futile.
  2. Humility. The person being coached must want to improve. Whether you’re doing the coaching or the coaching comes from someone else, the person on the receiving end of coaching must be humble enough to recognize and admit they’re not perfect.
  3. Improvement. Ultimately, the performance of the person being coached must improve. “The Season of Accountability” examines this factor and how long the road to improvement should take. Interestingly, this post also references the sun.

Eclipses are rare. Excuses are more common.

As noted previously, when you get reasons for poor performance, remove the reasons.

When you continue to get excuses for poor performance, it’s time to remove the person. 

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises some of the world’s most admired companies and leaders, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 250 strategic planning sessions, he’s delivered more than 600 keynotes and workshops on every continent except Antarctica, and he coaches leaders who are inspired to take their career to the next level. His fourth leadership book— Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (McGraw-Hill) —is a Soundview Executive Best Business Book.

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