“Being thrown under the bus” is an expression I’ve been hearing fairly often over the last few years. If you’ve been thrown under the bus, it means that you’ve taken a fall for somebody else – the bus has rolled over you and you’re crumpled and broken, but the person who most deserved it is still standing.
If you’ve recently been rolled over by a bus, you’re in luck. Forbes has your solution covered here.
Usually I’ve heard this come up in a professional context when a leader unexpectedly publicly blames a team member for an issue, when the leader themselves is often at least partly to blame for the incident.
As a new or aspiring leader, choosing to throw someone under the bus is one of the strongest communication signals you can send. When you blame somebody else for something that you should be taking some responsibility for, you are communicating a great many different things, all at once.
Let’s see what throwing someone under the bus says about you.
When you throw someone under the bus, you can’t be trusted
When you blame somebody for something that’s not really their fault, you’re instantly screaming to everybody that you are not to be trusted. How does anybody know you won’t do it again?
When you throw someone under the bus, you are a coward
The bus is speeding towards you – at the last second, you grab your unknowing victim and switch places, getting out of the way just in time. The part that usually makes people feel worst about this is that it is generally unexpected. You might be in a meeting when your boss unexpectedly tells everyone that you made an error on the spreadsheet which is why the numbers are wrong.
The surprising nature of this event could be avoided through clear communication, but it isn’t very likely.
“John, I’m going to tell Roger that you stuffed up the spreadsheet in this meeting – so be prepared for that”.
It’s just not going to happen is it? Because one of the key aspects of this sort of behaviour is cowardice and a lack of willingness to take accountability for your own faults. If you were the sort of leader who took accountability, you wouldn’t be thinking of throwing anybody under the bus in the first place!
Once you’ve thrown one of your team under the bus, good luck getting them to forget the incident! You’ve made it quite clear that you’re trying to safeguard your position and your reputation with your own boss to the extent that you’re willing to sacrifice someone else for it.
The ironic thing is, what you’re doing often has the opposite effect. People talk, and before you know it, your reputation is tarnished with what you did to your team. If your boss is perceptive, she’ll notice how you shirked your responsibilities as a leader. Better hope she’s not.
When you throw someone under the bus, you don’t take accountability
So one of your team is lying bloodied and broken after an encounter with a bus that had your name on it.
“But it was their fault”, you say
Yes, but as the leader of the team, what happens is ultimately your responsibility. If your team member stuffed up, why weren’t you making sure it was all correct first? Especially if it was really important…
Let’s review. You’re the leader, but you won’t take accountability. Why are you the leader again?
But I’ll get away with it in the end, right?
No. You might not lose your job. You might not even get backlash for it.
But here’s what you will do.
You’ll ruin your reputation, little by little. Read what this means for your career here.
People will leave your team and your organisation. They will tell others that it’s a bad place to work.
You will slowly but surely, lose the respect of others (if you had it in the first place).
Being a dickhead stays with you. So does being a coward. Not taking accountability does too. So does being untrustworthy.
Throwing somebody under the bus communicates all of these things, about you. So don’t do it. And if you do, good luck on pursuing your next leadership opportunity!