Author's Note: I want to be clear about 2 things regarding the context of this article.
1. There are real victims in our communities and around the world that need to be rescued. These are not the "victims" to which I refer in this article.
2. Taking a victim posture does not make us "bad" people, but simply demonstrates our imperfect human nature. I have taken the victim posture in my own life many times. The people that served me best utilized the principles I highlight below to draw me out of that posture into healthier functioning.
Thank you for reading. I look forward to learning from your comments. You can also find this article published on LinkedIn.
Most leaders recognize victim mentality when they see it. It is characterized by the blaming of others for an individual’s own failure or disappointing results. Perhaps, you've heard statements like, "If leadership didn’t always do (something not-so-flattering) we wouldn’t even be in this position" or "None of my other bosses ever had a problem with me."
While recognition is an important first step, the critical question is: do leaders know how best to deal with these scenarios? Here are 4 principles to keep in mind as you address victim mentality:
1. Understand your role and responsibility.
I’m often surprised by the number of leaders who carry unnecessary anxiety and stress. The healthiest ones have learned to carry the appropriate responsibilities, not those that others should carry.
Leaders who have clarity of, and confidence in, their role and responsibility, are able to resist the temptation to play superhero, which leads us to our second principle.
2. Resist the urge to rescue.
Only a leader who understands her own role is able to identify where her role ends and the “victim’s” role begins. As she resists the urge to rescue, the necessary time and space are provided for the "victim" to self-reflect.
In best case scenarios, self-reflection leads to self-awareness, which leads to an acceptance of one’s situation and commitment to a productive next step. (If this principle sounds familiar, it’s because "resist the urge to rescue" is one of 5 Keys to Creating a Culture of Healthy Accountability.)
Don’t be discouraged if movement doesn’t happen on the first go-around. It probably won’t. Which is why you should…
3. Expect multiple iterations of blame shifting.
Be prepared for a few unexpected twists and turns in the conversation. Creating confusion is the ultimate strategy to effectively shirk responsibility. When taking the posture of a victim, the individual will often blame different people and processes until they find one that sticks. If this strategy is successful, the conversation ends up being an adventure in missing the point.
Given this, it is important that the leader continually reframe the issue back to the individual’s responsibility to choose his or her own way forward within the constructs of the organizations mission, values and strategy. The reframe must always include the requirements of the individual’s job.
At every iteration it is critical that the leader…
The common thread in these principles is the leader’s ability to be patient and stay focused on the foundational issue. Difficult conversations are characterized by uncomfortable, tension-filled periods of silence that require the leader to be a non-anxious presence. Patience and focus are possible only when he understands his own role and responsibility, resists the urge to rescue and expects multiple iterations of blame shifting.
Ultimately, throughout the conversation, the leader must refrain from filling the space. In short, he allows silence to do the heavy lifting.
For most of us, dealing with this type of challenge is far from enjoyable. The situation offers, however, a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate values and leadership principles to our teams and organizations. Authentically demonstrated values and principles build rapport and credibility in ways that words and slogans cannot.
So, why is any of this important?
Our best employees know when a team member is not carrying their weight. They know when the “victim” acts unprofessionally, scapegoating others instead of taking personal responsibility. If the leader does not appropriately address these dysfunctions, even the best employees can become bitter.
In tight labor markets, your highest performers will have many options. Your competitors will try to entice them to join their organization. Creating a culture of healthy accountability—characterized by non-anxious engagement with the victim mentality—is, perhaps, the most critical element to retaining your best employees.
If done well, leadership will retain hard-working team players while appropriately dealing with those who are hostile to other team members and the organization's mission. If done poorly…well, you know....
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