Have you ever noticed that there are two types of leaders? There are those who attain power by their position or title and then there are those who just seem like natural leaders. These are often the people with no official title or position, but the very people who everyone turns to when they need help, guidance or advice.
Why is it that some people appear much more powerful and in control than others who seem hopelessly helpless and out of control? Is it money? Privilege? Power? Or is it something else? Could it be that these powerful and accountable people have a certain way of thinking, acting and being that helps them remain powerful and accountable?
Since the days of Aristotle, the philosophers have known that the words we speak are followed by the actions we take which ultimately determine our outcomes. Specifically, "Our thoughts become our words. Our words become our actions. Our actions become our habits. Our habits become our destiny." Says Aristotle. In short, when you change your perspective, you change your destiny. So how do you do that?
Jim Paterek, who I have the good fortune to call both my friend and colleague, brought this corporate culture to our company, Trepoint, and it has made all the difference in helping our team remain powerful and accountable. It's very same lesson that was taught to many successful Fortune 500 leaders.
At its most basic level, The Lifeline illustrates that for any given situation, we can choose to either approach the problem from the perspective of a victim or an empowered person. And that for every victim statement, there is an opposite empowered statement.
- Unaware & Unconscious--This is the lowest level of victim statement. You hear it all the time in the form of "I don't know", "I had no idea", "I was completely blindsided" and "I wasn't aware of that". This is the whole "ignorance is bliss" perspective / outlook on life, and it's easy to fall into this trap. When you are totally unaware and unconscious, you can't possibly take responsibility for anything. You often hear this on investor calls with CEOs of the largest publically traded companies. "We were unaware of [insert problem or issue here]". The thinking being that if you're a victim, then it wasn't really your fault, so no one can blame you. Anyone could have had this problem, right? For the equal, opposite empowered statement, see #5.
- Blame Others--My favorite South Park song, "Blame Canada" included this lyric, "...we must blame them before someone thinks of blaming us!" Brilliant. To remain a victim once you can no longer claim ignorance (see #1), then the next best thing is pointing fingers. We hear this all the time in politics. The Republicans blame the Democrats (and vice versa) for everything that is wrong. Why do anything about the problem when you can simply sit on the sidelines and point fingers at your opponent? Kick 'em while they're down, right? Point out the fault in others to make yourself look better, right? Wrong. Anyone can place blame, but it is a victim's game. The more you point out the fault in others, the less people want to work with you. For the equal, opposite empowered statement, see #6.
- Excuse "I can't"--When it's clear that you can't claim ignorance (#1) nor can you point the finger at anyone else (#2), then the next level of being a victim is to make excuses. "It's not my fault, [insert person] is the root of the real problem." "I'd love to do that, but I can't, because [insert reason here]." Everyone has a reason that they couldn't accomplish the thing they were supposed to do, but has there ever been an excuse that didn't make you sound like a victim? No one wants to hear excuses. Your clients and your team is counting on you to deliver, not tell them why you can't. For the equal, opposite empowered statement, see #7.
- Waiting & Hoping--This is actually the worst kind of victim statement because you actually believe you're empowered when you're not. "I'm just waiting for [name of person] to sign the contract and we'll get started immediately." "I'm hoping that they will see it our way and agree to move forward with us." You get the idea. It's the last step in the process. You're proud of your work. You even feel empowered, yet it's a mirage. Waiting and hoping for something is still operating from a powerless domain. For the equal, opposite empowered statement, see #8.
So how do we turn it around? More importantly, how do we help those around us stay powerful and accountable when we hear these statements? It's all in how you look at the problem. Change your perspective and you can shift from operating from a powerless domain to operating from a position of power and accountability. Here's how.
- Acknowledge Reality - Start here. Before you can change your outcome, you first must fully absorb the situation in which you find yourself. Rather than allowing yourself to be unaware and unconscious about your situation, acknowledge your reality. Don't lie to yourself or others. Tell it like it is. Only then can you move forward and change your outcome. By acknowledging reality, you see things as they are (not as you want them to be) and you are even aware of the things you don't know so that you are empowered to increase your awareness further. As soon as you acknowledge reality, you have taken the first step of empowerment.
- "Own It"--Don't play the blame game. Instead, own the problem, especially when you didn't create it in the first place. By owning the problems that others have created, you go beyond acknowledging reality (#5) and deepen your empowerment. You can't be a victim if you own the problem, and only by owning the problem can you actually do something about it. Great leaders actively seek out problems they can own irrespective of who created them.
- Find Solutions--Rather than obsessing about what you can't do, redirect your efforts towards the things you can do. People who operate from a powerful domain, obsess about finding solutions to the many problems they see, rather than wasting time coming up with excuses and the reasons they can't solve the problem. As Randy Pausch said in The Last Lecture, "The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They're there to stop the other people".
- Make It Happen--This is the ultimate step of powerful and accountable people. It is about doing everything in your power to deliver the results you are looking to achieve. Rather than waiting and hoping that your solutions will work, it's about digging into the details to ensure the outcomes you want to see actually come to life. Making it happen means doing whatever it takes and not leaving your desired outcomes to chance.
If you would like to learn more about The Lifeline, or are interested in having me present this corporate culture to your team, you can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or reach out via Twitter @BillCarmody and we can "Make it Happen" together.