During a talk facilitated by the Stanford Technology Ventures program nearly a decade ago, Sheryl Sandberg hit the nail on the head. Her advice? "Be a player, not a victim."
Are you a victim or a player?
Humans have a propensity to blame others for their problems and shortcomings. When things don't go our way, we are more inclined to look anywhere but within. When our sales are dismal, it's due to the competition. When we don't close a deal, it's because the customer was narrow-minded. When a project fails, it's because we weren't given the right information at the right time.
Don't fall into these traps. According to Sandberg, we must eschew the blame game at all costs. She explains, "There is no such thing as complete control....No one has complete control in any situation."
What's important is that we develop a practice of assuming ownership for the quality of an outcome, even when we're working with others or subject to external factors. When we assume ownership, we become a "player." When we don't, we become a "victim."
Sandberg provided two examples:
- Victim: "I'm not late because there was traffic."
- Player: "I'm late because I didn't leave early enough to account for the fact that there was traffic."
- Victim: "The project didn't get finished because [my colleague didn't do his part]."
- Player: "The project didn't get finished because I didn't set up a team where my colleague wanted to do his part."
When we see ourselves as a "victim," we fixate on blame. A 2004 study published by researchers from the University of Glamorgan found that when we're focused on blame, our ability to learn from our mistakes and take corrective action is impaired. We limit our ability to scale ourselves.
On the flip side, when we see ourselves as a "player" and assume personal responsibility for our situations, we become problem solvers. We fixate on learning. We try to figure out why a given situation didn't pan out as we hoped. The learning process enables us to scale ourselves.
Research spearheaded by Tobias Fredberg, a professor at Chalmers University in Sweden, shows that individuals who assume personal responsibility for situations exhibit high levels of ambition. When we take responsibility for our situations--regardless of whether we were completely in the driving seat--we become more ambitious. We focus on what we can we do differently in the future to give rise to comparatively more desirable outcomes. This ambition fuels productivity and heightens our ability to scale ourselves.
Leaders Accept Blame
Conceptualizing yourself as a "player" instead of a "victim" has other benefits too. "Players" are more highly regarded by peers. Fredberg explains, "A leader who spreads the blame, who fails to accept that he or she is ultimately the one in charge, increases the insecurity of their people and lessens the likelihood that they'll take ownership of initiatives." We respect "players" who assume responsibility because it demonstrates leadership. It's much easier to scale ourselves when we have the respect of our peers.
When we take responsibility and become "a player", it's empowering and liberating. We're able to raise our game and scale ourselves to new heights.