Leading Yourself Out of the Victim Role


In some deep recess inside, I am a biologist. It’s where I started my career, and it continues to be a part of my way of seeing the world. I watch a lot of nature shows, especially the ones with animals in them that we don’t normally get to see in our backyard. I find that if I stretch my thinking a bit, the world we live in could be seen a lot like the natural world where the stronger, bigger animals prey on the weaker, smaller ones.

In the corporate jungle, I occasionally meet the leader who sees themselves as the prey (victim) of a lot of things that they feel are “out there” and out of their control. They see those things as stronger and bigger than they are as a way of coping with something they don’t want to deal with (often for legitimate reasons!). Here are some of the things that might just keep you in a victim mindset:

  • The boss who doesn’t see you as capable of doing great work
  • The employees who aren’t performing up to your standards
  • The colleague who is critical of your work and “just doesn’t get it”
  • The organization that’s failing because they aren’t doing it the way you would
  • The strategy that isn’t perfect
  • The vision that is flawed
  • The partner who doesn’t listen
  • The children who are unruly
  • Etc…..

Do you see yourself in any of these? Perhaps there is something else out there that is getting in the way of your magnificence? What have you assumed is holding you back from being everything you could be? The list could go on, but all of these things (and anything else that you feel victimized by) are not the problem. The problem is that you have made a (perhaps almost unconscious) decision to be the victim.

Turn it around

What would you assume if you weren’t assuming those things I listed? Some examples:

  • I will have a dialog with the boss and raise the bar on my performance based on his input
  • I will roll up my shirtsleeves and coach the employees to perform better
  • I will spend some time with that colleague to help them to understand my work
  • I will speak up to the people responsible for the failure about other ways to do things
  • I will provide input to change the strategy
  • I will recreate the vision
  • I will respectfully ask my partner to listen to me (and I can listen better to my partner as well)
  • I will take a more active role in parenting my children to be better behaved
  • Etc…..

It’s up to you. Every day, you choose to be a victim or a leader. Take a hard look at yourself, and notice where you’ve placed blame. You can be the victim or you can take an active role in turning things around. You’ll be a better leader for it.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

7 comments on “Leading Yourself Out of the Victim Role

  1. Mary Jo Asmus –
    Thank you for this post, which I found via Lolly Daskal – You have issued a reminder here which we all require to send to ourselves on a daily basis. “It’s up to you.” The realization that all blaming leads to weakening ourselves is most useful, when acted upon. It is the action that gets the job done. But without the realization, our actions are often sporadic and unfocused, taking us helter-skelter into the vortex of a downward energy drain.
    I appreciate your finishing with this reminder:
    “It’s up to you. Every day, you choose to be a victim or a leader.”
    We are, after all, beings who choose to be.
    Thank you.

  2. Thanks Wayne. The trick, I believe, is to remain intentional about choosing to think differently in a world that distracts us from intentionality. I greatly appreciate your statement that we are beings who choose to be.

  3. Very true!
    Your article points to one of the most studied areas in social psychology – Locus of Control. People with an external locus of control tend to believe they are “victims” of other people, luck, fate or chance, whereas people with an internal locus of control take responsibility for their lives. It’s a fascinating area with immense potential to assist leaders become more responsible in their roles and drop the “victim” mentality – it’s what I spend much of my professional time doing.

  4. Solid Gold, thanks!

    Clive, thanks for the explanation. I find the “locus of control” (I’m not a psychologist, and wasn’t familiar with that terem, so thanks for that!) a fascinating subject too. It’s hard to coach someone in a victim role, but I’ve noticed some of them can come a long way if they realize that they have more choices than they thought they did. Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

  5. “It’s up to you. Every day, you choose to be a victim or a leader.” Very much the truth and I find it fascinating how instinctively as people we want to blame someone or something when things don’t go according to plan. I can’t say I have learnt the ability to not jump into blame mode when frustrated, but what is definitely empowering is hitting the brakes and waking up to what is happening when I do. The problem is never out there.

  6. Hi Thabo, You’ve landed on a salient point: that one must be vigilant in knowing where they are blaming and in taking responsibility back upon themselves when they do. Thanks!

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