Conversations For Career Transformation
Mounica Veggalam | 05-06-2023
Read time: 5 mins
Today’s deep-dive responds to the annoying feedback most managers receive, “Step up as a leader.”
If you’ve been left clueless with vague descriptions of what that means, I hear you. It would drive anyone nuts and get you fired up to hustle more (or quietly quit). I’ve got some harsh truths to put on the table for you to consider.
Ready for it? Let’s dive in.
Consider this conversation between Tina and her boss David.
David: You said we would get this out by this week. I don’t see any signs of it. What’s happening?
Tina: I’m receiving a lot of pushback from the engineers. The QA team dropped the ball and started working on something else. The PMs gave unreasonable specs.
David: The PMs?
Tina: Yes, Alex especially does this all the time. They don’t consider the engineering side of things.
Any guesses about what’s wrong with this conversation?
Tina is in a “Victim” trap.
Yes, there are valid reasons why something didn’t happen or justifications for things not falling in place. But, in the context of becoming a leader, justifications indicate an opportunity to take more ownership.
Anytime you make a definitive conclusion about what others’ responsibility is, you’re falling into the “victim” trap.
Here are some easy-to-spot examples:
- They SHOULD
- They COULD have (blame on the past)
- Why do they ALWAYS
- Why CAN’T they NEVER
The common theme?
What’s really happening here is that your mind is reacting to the loss of control. What you intended did not happen the way you intended (or you see it’s not going to happen). Everything feels out of your control.
Then, we have two default reactions:
- We blame other people
- We go into an over-drive to get everything under control.
These go hand-in-hand. It happens all the time to leaders, especially leaders.
Even the most high-agency leaders fall into the trap of the victim mindset
I consider myself a reasonably high-agency person. I take up duties readily and am the first person to drive so that things get done.
- Family doctor appointments? Done.
- Wear multiple hats to make sure the feature is released? Sounds fun.
- You asked me to talk to the customer because it’s vital for the deadline (even though it’s not my job)? Done.
- You want a kidney? Here, take mine.
Okay. A bit too much on the last one.
My point is drivenness does not equal leadership. What’s lying underneath the layer of duty & responsibility is a grappling for control – so you can get your desired results.
And when the results don’t show up, it leads to resentment. It drains you. It creates patterns of over-working and eventually… you feel like a victim.
Either everybody else suddenly becomes responsible, or you were responsible for how things turned out.
Rather than falling into the never-ending cycle of who’s responsible, leaders operate from a place of empowerment.
Don’t be “responsible” for the sake of duty. Be EMPOWERED.
The need to talk about the ‘because’ becomes irrelevant when you are a leader.
Instead of discussing the past and who’s responsible, you have a conversation about what you choose to do - specifically, what ART do you want to create given this situation?
That is empowerment.
Let’s make it real. Here are some patterns in your day-to-day job that show the victim mindset and how to become empowered.
1) You wait for your manager to give feedback or opportunities
Do you often find yourself on either side of this conversation –
- “Do you have any feedback for me?”
- “Am I on track for the next level?”
It’s not enough to ask. It’s a burden on your manager to think of something for you. Though a great manager would do that, you’re not showing 100% ownership by being in this state.
You may fall into the victim mindset– resenting your manager for not being the kind of person you are (or you want them to be).
Empowered Approach: Have a conversation about what you want. “My career is important to me. Is it important to you as well? If so, I would like some coaching from you in these areas. How can we approach this?”. For example, being more strategic.
2) You’re frustrated about the team culture. People don’t trust you (or worse, they don’t trust each other).
As a high-agency person, you might have thought about building trust in the team. You might-
- pair the right people up
- initiate morale events to get up the rapport
- have several meetings to get people in touch with all the happenings of the team
But when all these efforts are not enough, you subconsciously give up. You start blaming certain people (especially the most opinionated ones on the team).
Remember, any Blame = Victim Mindset
Empowered Approach: Find creative ways to create the culture you want instead of falling for the blame. It’s a leadership opportunity.
In one of my client conversations about trust, we arrived at a solution that won’t take much time but also model vulnerability. Trust becomes the default way when you develop deep intimacy with each person. And when you model that, everyone else follows suit.
Send a personal email every week to your team (better yet, a Loom video)
- Highlight & Champion a few members for their work
- Share a question you’ve been thinking about
- Share what you learned over the week.
- Share something from your personal life that would be a conversation starter.
3) You’re overwhelmed by your calendar/amount of work
Anytime you’re overwhelmed, you’re in the unwinnable game of who’s in control. Either you try to control everything or let your work control you.
Either way, the victim feelings are not far away.
Empowered Approach: Declutter your time ruthlessly. Create space for lots of internal reflection and connecting to a relaxed, focused presence.
Kim Scott (author of Radical Candor) suggests
- 10 hours/week - Direct reports
- 15 hours/week - Your expertise
- 15 hours/week - The unpredictable & personal development
Whenever I point out the “victim” trap, the most common reaction is, “No way!” and then, “I get it, but I’m a highly responsible person.”
If those were your first thoughts, you’re likely in The Victim Trap – and it’s time to escape.
- Any waiting for things to get better -> Victim Mindset
- Any blame on yourself or others -> Victim Mindset
- Any kind of overwhelm -> Victim Mindset
And that's it for today!
I almost forgot the customary GIF. Hope you don't have a disapproving denail look right now:
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