Powerful Leaders Don’t Fall into the Victim Trap
One key aspect of organizational leadership is Emotional Maturity. Leaders who grow their Emotional Maturity deliver stronger results, develop their people better, and make overall stronger decisions. Companies that focus on growing and improving Emotional Maturity are making meaningful and important investments in their future.
Emotional Maturity is a hallmark of Emotional Intelligence (a.k.a EQ/EI). It defines one’s ability to understand and manage emotions, which drive performance. It is critical that Senior Leadership and the talent pipeline develop an ability to learn from life’s experiences/feedback, accept responsibility, seek out opportunities, and move on.
Resilience means a lot in the world of Emotional Maturity, especially in this day and age of rapid innovation. What works one day probably won’t work the next. Leaders can go from heroes to villains and back to heroes again in the course of one business day. Organizational leaders need to toughen up — for their own sake and for the sake of their people.
So, put away the tiny violins. It’s a given that no one leaves this planet unscathed. It has been said that life is tougher than school because in school the lessons come first, and the test follows; while, in life and work, the test comes first and the lessons follow. There is a plethora of publicized and successful examples of those who have either faced hardship, endured scandal, and have pressed on.
Let’s see if you can determine who these 10 individuals are below. (Answers follow at bottom).
- Father died of a heart attack, while subject was in high school. Married eight times. Suffered a major heart-attack, leading to quintuple by-pass surgery, and later stents in the coronary artery to remove plaque from the heart.
- Body dysmorphic disorder (the belief that one’s body needs to be fixed or hidden). Suffered child abuse (physical and verbal). Accused of pedophilia. Overdosed on prescription drugs and died of cardiac arrest.
- Poor student. Felt like a “third wheel” even on the wedding day. Private telephone conversations were leaked to the media. Mother-in-law wrote a letter asking for a divorce. Died in car crash at age 36.
- Father was assassinated, while subject was age 3. Mother insisted that the pursuit of acting as a career passion not be the path to take, but law. Failed the bar exam twice. Joked about refusing to believe a family curse. Spouse was on antidepressants within 3 years of marriage, and the couple started marriage therapy. Died in a plane crash, he was piloting (spouse and sister-in-law also perished).
- Parents divorced, when subject was age 9. Four unsuccessful TV shows, before making it big. Despite being considered one of the world’s most beautiful and sexy people and being married to another of the world’s most beautiful and sexy people, lost spouse to yet another of the world’s most beautiful and sexy people. Divorced, yet engaged, claims to want children and is in the late 40’s.
- After reaching the number one position in world rankings and the highest paid in the field, fell to number 58, and suffered a losing streak for 107 weeks. Despite being married to a model, had over a dozen extramarital affairs and was consequently dropped from several advertisers. Stakeholder loss estimate was $5-$12 billion. Entered 45-day therapy, divorced, and lost custody of two children to live alone (for a while) in 10K sq ft home.
- Triple threat (sing, act, model) married someone who had multiple run-ins with the law, and served jail time. Both got into heavy drug usage. This damaged the quality of voice and performance substantially. Divorced, won custody of one child. Found dead in hotel room, submerged in tub – toxicology report revealed cocaine, Benadryl, Xanax, marijuana, and Flexeril in the system.
- Born into poverty to an unmarried teen mom, raped at age 9, molested, pregnant at age 14; lost baby in infancy. The emotional turmoil eventually led to a weight problem.
- Born to unwed parents and given up for adoption. College drop-out after 6 months, but slept on the floor in friends’ dorm rooms, returned Coke bottles for food money, and ate weekly free meals at a Hare Krishna. Denied being parent to lovechild of high school sweetheart. Estranged from birth dad for rest of life. Forced to resign as CEO by the company the subject co-founded. Liver transplant. Died of respiratory arrest related to pancreatic cancer (pancreas neuroendocrine tumor).
- One of the highest paid in the field. Won two Razzies (worst performance) the day before winning an Oscar, making the subject the only one to have ever won best and worst in the same year. Hit head-on by a drunk driver. Had to go to court for two separate, crazed stalkers. Despite being twice selected as People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, spouse after 5 years of marriage admitted to having had several extramarital affairs. Divorced, and adoption of child makes subject single parent.
Emotional Maturity builds resilience and heads off victimhood. At any point, and unless fate stepped in, any of the above characters could have given up and not contributed to the legacy they created. That choice is left in your hands. Pursuit of the legacy is leadership. Here are five steps towards owning your power:
- Avoid Labels. Naming others with adjectives such as “Disrespectful,” “Mean,” “Rude,” detracts from placing the focus of the conversation you want to have. Instead, State the Behavior. ..either something you saw (e.g. feet up on desk) or something you heard (e.g. “You can look it up for yourself.”)
- Seek another Perspective. Flex the mind to other possible interpretations of someone’s behavior/words. Using the above examples, feet up could be an indication of the cultural preference for informality; while direct communication may be an indication of the cultural preference for individualism. The Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Communication Model demonstrates how we filter information and act on it.
Ultimately, if you sense the person has malicious intent behind his/her actions, then remember that each person is fighting a personal battle. It could be a personal fear of rejection, losing, emotional discomfort, or being wrong. That’s theirs to own, not yours.
- Assume Accountability. Leaders will own up to the fact that certain behaviors can trigger unfavorable emotions. This is where Open Communication is crucial. Share, “When you said/did [verbatim quote or explicit behavior – without faces or tones added], I felt disrespected.” Any reasonable person will work to make a conscious effort to avoid that behavior, as you work to eliminate the triggers.
- Eliminate Drama. The open communication is held with just the person who has triggered a reaction. Avoid setting up allies with others in the workplace, just to feel validated. This creates a triangular effect of Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor. (a.k.a. Karpman Drama Triangle).
- Legacy. Remember what your purpose, your identity is. No one individual can make you feel inferior/disrespected without your consent. You hold the power for that. Don’t give it away so easily.
Symptoms of organizational victimhood include passing the buck, scapegoating, conformity, ingratiation (brownnosing, sucking up), and a culture that entails Mark Twain’s quote, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” It is up to Senior Leaders to utilize their Emotional Maturity to nip these behaviors in the bud by having an open, yet private, communication with employees about effective organizational behaviors.
Driving Emotional Maturity, first among leaders and then among employees, makes a significant difference in organizational success. There’s no time to start like the present. Think of a situation that you’re facing right now in your company that requires some more Emotional Maturity. Which technique(s) might you employ: Avoiding Labels, Seeking another Perspective, Assuming Accountability, Eliminating Drama, and/or Focusing on Legacy?
- Larry King, 2. Michael Jackson, 3. Diana Spencer, 4. JKF, Jr., 5. Jennifer Aniston, 6. Tiger Woods, 7. Whitney Houston, 8. Oprah Winfrey, 9. Steve Jobs, 10. Sandra Bullock
About Rossina Gil
Rossina Gil is a Leadership & Organization Development practitioner. She considers herself the Joe McHale (i.e. Talk Soup) of OD, where she synthesizes organizational concepts, and introduces them in laymen’s terms, often using pop culture and social media to make the concepts stick. Her expertise is in Cross-Cultural and Women’s Leadership.