Play victim

Recently, I have been asked to provide more talks to mid-level managers of organizations, with the intention for these teams to understand what the leadership team has been working on, become more strategic in their thinking, and learn how to be better managers and departmental leaders.

One of the examples I have been using that seems to really resonate is what I call the “Victim Triangle”.  Almost 40 years ago, Stephen Karpman, MD, documented what he called the “Drama Triangle,” which outlines the relationship between what he calls the “victim,” the “persecutor,” and the “rescuer”. The idea is to see how we exchange seats and can become all three at different times.

In my latest blog, I talked about the importance of developing and empowering your team members’  talent. Helping mid-level managers embrace this idea can be extremely pivotal in their thinking.

It works something like this…Keep in mind that I will use silly theatrics and self-deprecation at times to get the idea across, but it still seems to resonate.

As compassionate, caring people, most of us are wired to want to solve a problem when asked. If we have a direct report who comes to us with a problem, we want to help. However, the steps we take from this point can potentially start us down a vicious path (I speak from experience of many times taking the wrong path). More often than not, when asked for help by the new guy, we dive right in. In fact, we may be really pressed for time and simply tell him how to do it or even do it ourselves. In some cases, we are pleased to be asked to help and, truth be told, we may want to show off how smart or experienced we are. Again, we dive right in and solve it for them. We walk away, standing tall and proud for showing the new guy how smart we are and “helping” our direct report.

In either of these two scenarios, we have actually done greater harm than good. Here’s why…

We now have taught that direct report that when they have an issue, they should not solve it themselves, but rather, they should bring it to us and we will solve it for them. With the best of intention and heart, we have unknowingly become their rescuer. This may be fine if you only have one direct report, but what happens when you have seven and you have taught all of them that you will solve all their problems for them? The shiny feeling of showing off and helping will fade. In fact, I would bet that it will eventually be replaced with full-on resentment. You may get caught mumbling under your breath, “I don’t have time to do my own job and now I have to do everyone else’s.” Yes, I have seen this scenario many times – this person has transitioned from rescuer to victim.  

It even gets to a point where the transitioned rescuer is now the newly-created victim, who then becomes the persecutor. This is illustrated when a direct report comes with an issue and you fly off the handle by replying, “This is your job. I don’t have time for both your job in mine. You deal with it.” Again, I have seen this. 

The reality is that manager has been the primary reason this issue exists. Yep, that person in the mirror who had great intentions as a “savior” has trained the direct report incorrectly, has become a victim, and is now the grumpy persecutor.

To avoid this, try this: When you have a direct report come to you with a problem, teach them how to solve it. Ask questions, provoke, encourage, and empower them to solve the issue. Invest this time early and create the right expectations. If you need to, tell them exactly what you are doing (“I could solve that, but it would teach you the wrong thing. Instead, how do you think you should do it?”). I realize this will take more time upfront, but look at this as a long-term investment; it is worth it for both you and them.

To end on a biblical note: Don’t give a man a fish. Teach him how to fish.

Are you interested in learning how to help others solve problems on their own? Want to teach them how to “fish”? Then contact us today for a no-obligation consultation. We’re here to help!

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