“You are the reason of your own good-luck and bad-luck; success and failure; happiness and pain. Your choices are responsible for your present. Don't blame someone else for your sufferings or failures.” — Sanjeev Himachali
I was lucky enough to attend a leadership offsite run by Fred Kofman 12 years ago. Fred is an executive coach and advisor on leadership and culture. He has also held VP positions at Google and LinkedIn.
Something he said during the day of that offsite has stuck with me ever since:
You don’t have to do anything.
You choose to do things.
Once you make that mental shift, you will always feel more empowered.
He described a great example of a common scenario in his book, Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values. Are you familiar with the term “phubbing” (phone snubbing)?
Well, we often phub others, and they frequently phub us. How many times has a phone rang during a meeting, and you or the other party said, “Oh, sorry. I have to take this.”
I have to take this.
I know that I’ve uttered that phrase. I’ve also been in meetings with other people who have suddenly stood up to leave the room, clutching their phone, and saying, “Sorry everyone, I gotta take this call.”
But do you? Do you HAVE to take that call?
No, you are choosing to take that call. You are deciding that answering that call is more important than what you are doing right now. You are deciding that the person on the other end of that call is more important than the other people in the room with you.
And, that’s ok. But, be honest about that choice.
Fred talked a lot about the role of “player vs. victim.” Choose to be a player, not the victim.
“You are not a robot. You make choices. You choose to act as you do because you think it is the best way to pursue your interests in a given situation. External facts are information, not stimuli. You don’t answer the phone because it rings. You choose to answer the phone when it rings, because you want to. You assess — perhaps automatically— that you are better off taking the call. External circumstances and internal impulses influence your behavior, but they don’t determine it. You are a conscious human being; you always have a choice.”
— Fred Kofman
Playing the victim
“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” — Sigmund Freud
Why do we play the victim in some situations? Now, I can hear some of you protesting, “What? I’ve never played the victim?”
However, if you have ever used one of the following excuses, then — yes — you have played the role of a victim.
“I’m sorry that I’m late. Traffic was terrible.”
“Yes, I know that we missed the deadline for our deliverable. But, we have a dependency on another team, and they fell behind schedule.”
“I shouldn’t have snapped at you. But, I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Sorry that I’m late for dinner. My meeting ran long.”
“This year has been so stressful. It’s not my fault that I’ve been snacking and gained weight!”
I’m sure you’ve also experienced working with a boss or coworker who blames others and refuses to be held responsible for failures. Bad bosses frequently blame their teams when things go wrong.
Why do they do it?
Why do we do it?
In part, people will play the victim to avoid the consequences of mistakes and failures. No one wants to be blamed, punished, or fired.
But, people also behave like “woe is me” victims to preserve their self-esteem. If they can blame someone or something else, then the failure wasn’t their fault. They are still talented and worthy, right?
Victims tend to blame all of the difficulties in their lives on external circumstances that are supposedly beyond their control. It’s always someone else’s fault. Problems are always due to some unforeseen issues.
They claim complete innocence, but, in doing so, they must give up their power. If you don’t accept responsibility for being part of the problem, how can you take ownership to find the solution? You can’t fix things if you are powerless.
Being a player
“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Becoming a player means that you turn your “have to” statements into “want to” and “choose to” statements.
You don’t have to go to work. You choose to go to work because you’re grateful that you have a job in this economy. You choose to make money so that you can pay your rent and buy groceries.
You don’t have to leave work early to pick up your children from school. You choose to leave at that time so that you won’t be late. You want to pick up your children because you love them and miss them.
You don’t have to exercise. You choose to exercise because you want the health benefits. You’re grateful that you are even able to exercise because some people wish that they could, but they aren’t physically capable of doing so.
You also accept responsibility for your actions and the outcomes. You claim ownership of the situations in which you are the player, not a victim.
You will notice that the best leaders are quick to praise their teams for success and just as quick to take the blame for failures. Great leaders take responsibility and accept negative consequences.
Individual players follow a similar playbook. They know that there is power in sharing praise with others and accepting personal responsibility for mistakes and failures.
They will say something like, “Yes, that was a mistake. I accept responsibility for that. I will address that issue and set things right by the end of this week.”
Now, you might be thinking that it isn’t always possible to have full control over every decision. Sometimes, you are backed into a corner and think that you have no choice.
For example, your boss may ask you to do something that you do not want to do (e.g., it conflicts with other commitments, your values, or company policy). But, you feel like you have no other option but to say, “Yes.”
Why? Because you fear that you will be fired if you say, “No.”
However, that is a choice that you own. You can’t control the outcome, but you do own the decision.
You can refuse and accept the potential consequence of losing your job. Or, you can perform the task and suffer the outcome that you may feel guilty about it for the rest of your life.
It still is your choice to make. You may not be happy with those potential outcomes, but owning that decision changes how you view the situation and empowers you.
You may think that sounds silly. Oh, great, you get to make a choice that will get you fired. But, that mental shift flips a switch in your brain and how you perceive your power in every situation.
You begin to realize that you don’t have to say yes when you don’t feel like it. When you become a player, you think differently about scenarios like this. You create alternative plans and suggestions that change the game so that you’re never stuck in a lose-lose situation again.
You refuse to play the role of a passive victim who must accept whatever comes your way.
Claiming your power
“The price of greatness is responsibility.” — Winston Churchill
It is empowering when you are the one making decisions and choosing what you do in your work and life. I know that there are times that it certainly doesn’t feel like you are in control or have power, but you actually do even when it doesn’t feel that way.
You recognize when you’re frustrated by the limited choices available to you, and you do something about it. Maybe today you felt forced to choose the lesser of two evils (e.g., I’m going to do what my boss is asking so that I don’t get fired).
However, you can now make a plan to avoid being placed between “a rock and a hard place” in the future. You take control of your career path, with whom you choose to work, and how you do your work to sidestep those traps.
Claiming your power gives you the ability to make choices with a greater awareness of why you are making that choice and what the consequences will be:
You choose how you will react.
You choose how you will behave.
You choose the actions you will take.
You choose how you will feel.
You choose the preferred consequences.
You have the freedom to decide.
Freedom has a price
“Freedom does not mean doing what you want without consquences; it means having the capacity to choose, in the face of a situation, the response that is most consistent with your values.” — Fred Kofman
Giving up your power and freedom is easier in some ways. We experienced that as small children. Our parents controlled much of how we spent our days and nights, but we had few responsibilities and less stress than we do as adults.
Claiming your power and freedom does come with a price. You take full ownership of your decisions. You are responsible and accountable. You face the consequences of your actions.
Ironically enough, you have a choice to make:
Do you give up your power and freedom to avoid additional stress, anxiety, responsibility, and accountability?
Or, do you claim your power and freedom so that you are in control of your career and life, even though that comes with a price?
Only you can answer that.
I know the choice that I made years ago. My life was simpler when I worked for someone else. My work was easier when I was a lower-level employee.
Back in those good ol’ days, I deferred most of the tough questions to my boss.
“Hey, that’s not my decision. That’s above my pay grade. If you want me to work on something else, go ask my boss.”
My life is much more complicated, challenging, and stressful now that I run my own business. Everything falls on me. But, I’m ok with that.
I’m willing to pay the price for my freedom so that I can have more power over my work, life, and future. Giving up control drives me crazy.
It’s your decision
I guess that — in some ways — you may think of this as “choose your poison.”
I didn’t like the feeling of being powerless and having my freedom restricted. I hated that feeling more than I disliked the stress and anxiety of taking ownership of every decision I make and everything I do.
You certainly don’t have to take the step that I did of breaking free of employment and running your own business. But I can tell you this:
Your upward mobility in your career is limited if you comfortably rest in the role of the victim.
Players are the ones who get promoted. Players become leaders. They are willing to accept the risks that go along with claiming their power and fully owning their decisions.
This week’s professional development challenge
⭐ Review Your Own Performance
- How do YOU think you’ve done this year?