Enabling Victimhood

When the Carthaginian Warmaster Hannibal had to cross the Alps to invade Italy with his elephants, his anxious generals asked him how he would achieve this impossible task? He gave a simple answer: I will find a way, or I will make one.

This is a powerful demonstration of an ownership mindset: The choice to do whatever it takes within your control to improve a situation.

If your team lacks ownership, and often defaults to victimhood, it’s fruitless to try and teach ‘ownership.’ Instead, ask yourself a better question: Is there any behavior you show yourself that actually reduces ownership of your team members?

I call this the heroic leadership trap: Consistent leadership behaviors which are well-meaning, but in the end promote more victimhood.

Let’s review the list of 10 common behaviors which I have come across that enable victimhood:

  1. Task-manager: Chasing others to ensure that they do their work.
  2. Referee: Solving personal conflicts between team members.
  3. Monkey magnet: Taking ownership of the issues (“monkeys”) of others.
  4. Hoplite: Shielding the team from difficult realities.
  5. Superhero: Inviting everyone to bring their tough problems to you.
  6. Peacekeeper: Providing a neutral zone between warring fractions within the team.
  7. Quarterback: Constantly stepping in, stop the bleeding, and fixing stuff.
  8. Martyr: Personal sacrifices to compensate negative team member attitudes.
  9. Psychiatrist: Engaging in endless conversations aimed at letting team members vent their frustrations.
  10. Nanny: Cleaning up after team members have made a professional mess.

Every time you fall into the heroic leadership trap, you send a clear yet unintended message to your team: It is ok to outsource ownership to me and adopt the role of a victim.

True heroic leaders are those who focus on developing themselves to avoid the heroic leadership trap. This is the way to quickly develop other heroic leaders.

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