When coaching leadership teams, I often hear phrases like “If only…” or “Why can’t…” and other victim-language from members of the team and even the leaders themselves. They blame their poor performance on the failings of others, structure and hierarchy. This mindset is not only counterproductive, it also removes any accountability from senior management to do anything more than complain about the situation.
Growing up, feeling sorry for myself was just not acceptable in my house. We were working class and bettering my station meant working longer and harder than the kids at my private school. It meant doing more just to catch up to the others. Now, as an entrepreneur and founder of a tech company, my team’s success is on me; I own it, even if the cards don’t fall as we hope or expect. The only question is, “What do we do now?” We don’t placate ourselves by ruminating on what was “fair” or someone’s fault—we take responsibility for where we are and find the path to better our circumstances.
Why Your Team Needs to Eradicate Victimhood Thinking
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has done extensive research on the importance of a growth mindset. Her research on several Fortune 1000 companies found that employees in companies with a growth mindset have a higher level of trust in their organization, are more innovative, feel more supported in risk-taking, and have a greater commitment to their organization and its strategic outcomes. How we think is the precursor to how we act. So, if we think like victims we will act like victims and acting like a victim is never going to result in reaching our highest potential or realizing our greatest strategic outcomes.
The First Step to Putting an End to Victimhood Thinking
Mindsets come about through the development of organizational norms and these norms need to be proactively set and selected. At Ferrazzi Greenlight one of our High-Return Practices (HRP) is known as Red Flag Rules. These are commitments we make to our teammates to interpersonally engage in ways that create trust and psychological safety. Red Flag Rules are a team’s rules of engagement. Unlike most rules at work that focus on process—what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to do it—Red Flag Rules are about relationships; they focus on how we should be with one another.
Putting It into Practice: Red Flag Rules
Consider these rules for eliminating victimhood thinking and creating a shift toward a growth mindset:
Abolish any and all victimhood language, this means no ” would have if” or “I couldn’t because”
Point out victimhood thinking when it emerges but don’t shame the individual, reorient the dialogue toward constructive conversation about solving the problems at hand
Always take full responsibility for your circumstances and results
Acknowledge that your actions are the sole determinant of your performance
Reward growth mindset language that focuses on possibilities rather than limitations
Circumstances do not form mindsets. Every action we take is a conscious decision so it is beholden upon us, as leaders, to always choose to be proactive in our decisions and set the example of the kind of growth mindset we need to adopt and cultivate within our organizations. This is the opposite of the victim mentality that prevents so many teams from performing at their best and withers shareholder value. Through implementing practices such as Red Flag Rules and abiding by certain rules of being with one another we can deliver a knockout punch to the victim mindset, enabling a growth mindset to permeate our organizations.
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