Victim mentality in organisations – the ‘Greek effect’ – …

… and how to get people out of it

DSCN4561crop-smThose who have been following the events in Greece over the last months and maybe even years may have noticed that a rather strange mentality seems to have developed. Everybody in Europe and especially the economically stronger countries are being blamed for what happened in Greece. Although I’m convinced that not all Greek people think that way the media suggest that a large, at least a vocal, portion seemed to have adopted such a victim mentality.

Unfortunately, this blaming-others-attitude has severe effects in several ways. In principle, it means abdicating any responsibility for the situation the country is in. On the surface such a mentality may be understandable but actually it is a poison for one’s mind as it has a strong paralytic effect and keeps people blind to the obvious of what needs to be done.

For the people in Greece their politicians play(ed) a dangerous role as they kept making those poisonous promises of ‘free lunches’ in their election campaign. Possibly largely driven by their desire to be elected they did not tell the truth and never took responsibility for changing things like leaders in some other European countries did. This only reinforced the blame attitude. It is also a behaviour that says a lot about how weak these politicians are as leaders in times of crisis and challenges.

So, what has all of that to do with organisations? A lot! Quite a number of organisations suffer from a victim mentality, to a greater or lesser extent. And it can show in two ways: a passive one, where thinking circles around the mantra ‘I can’t do anything about it anyway’, and a more active expression, where thinking focuses on what others are doing or not doing for/against them, blaming them. In either case, one is the victim.

Of course you can find a spectrum of attitudes in organisations from very proactive and engaged people to those who really are in one or the other of these victim modes. However, some organisations have allowed the blaming mentality to permeate the rest of the organisation. And, it is the leaders who have allowed a certain culture to flourish. Whether they have not paid enough attention to what is really going on or have actively contributed to the blame culture is, at the end of the day, irrelevant! The risk of such a blame culture is in any case similar to what I’ve described above. It has a great potential to paralyse the organisation which subsequently makes it less competitive or even worse.

It is the leaders’ responsibility to set the culture! How you, as a leader, speak will set the tone for how others think and speak. What you are allowing to happen, i.e. in behaviour of people, has the potential to become the norm for all members of your organisation (be it good or bad). Remember: one rotten apple can spoil the whole basket. So what can you do about it? Here are a few tips:

  • First and foremost, lead consciously by example in the way you speak and act in your role as a leader.
  • Support or challenge others so they will take responsibility and be accountable.
  • Have focused feedback conversations with those who show a victim mentality about their behaviour and its effects. There is a specific approach for such conversations through which you have a good chance to shift people’s mentality from abdicating responsibility (victim mentality) to a person who takes responsibility in their area of influence.

Here are the six steps:

  1. Frame your conversation to a very recent situation and on your fact-based observations.
  2. Explore how the person has experienced the situation with an open mind, active listening, and empathy. They may not  even be aware of their behaviour.
  3. Be transparent about your intention to support them and make clear that the conversation is only about this situation. Missing this may lead to other excuses.
  4. Ask open questions to explore what the persons’ contribution and opportunities to act in the situation could have been.
  5. Explore with open questions how they could avoid such situation in future. Do not impose your ideas, as you may be blamed if they don’t work for the person.
  6. Close your conversations with clear agreements what the person will do differently in similar situations. Don’t forget they may need your support, be open to offer it when appropriate.

The six steps may appear very simple. Yet experience tells me that it takes some effort to really hold on to the flow and not skip any one of them.
I wish you great success with a team or organisation in which all members are ready to take responsibility and act instead of blaming others for not doing the right things.

Feel free to leave a comment below or if you want to discuss any of this with me in more detail, contact me direct.

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