Victim, Villain, or Hero? You Choose.


Last week I wrote about “winning” and equated the concept less with the sports or business arena and more with becoming a better version of ourselves. I both highlighted and reinterpreted a powerful model from Derek Sivers with four steps that build upon each other.

The first of these is our penultimate opportunity – managing and directing our thoughts proactively. We are unique from every other breathing species on the planet in our ability to potentially do this. But how?

For some reason, the classic storytelling framework featuring the victim, villain and hero comes to mind. Why? Many years ago while at Oracle my boss’ boss, JB, who ran Applications Product Marketing, assessed his team and likely saw an opportunity for us to work better together. Yes, there were plenty of abrasive misfits — and boy do I raise my hand on that one.

JB organized an “onsite offsite” in a large conference room with gray carpeting and dimly lit fluorescent lights. He brought in an outside facilitator from his hometown of Chicago. I cannot remember his name, nor do I have any notes from the event.

Similarly, I can’t recall the specific details of how this facilitator ran the day, except that he repeatedly emphasized the theme that while at work we tend to specialize in one of these three roles. And we do so on autopilot, unaware of the potentially damaging wake effect we cause if we behave like villains or victims. Villains can create a toxic workplace. Victims can sap morale and just as likely cause destruction to their own psyche.

The big A-HA? We get to choose! Therefore, when we think and behave more consciously, which part do we choose to play? I think most of us would opt for the role of the hero. But as research has long proven there is a big difference between our surveyed attitudes of what we desire and how we actually behave.

Now, as the wise and older (by seven months) sage “Rod” in my gym asked me this morning in his typical morning gravelly voice, “Come on Steve! Who in their right mind would self-identify as a victim or villain?” And he is right. Nobody would. He also emphasized that the meanings of these terms are open to wide interpretation. True, but isn’t this the case with most of our vocabulary? For example, one of my favorites: what is “reality?”

Here is the opportunity and I’ll keep pounding this into the ground. With more consistent levels of awareness, we get to choose. The goal is not to label ourselves as a big old V or H noun. Instead, we can think and behave more fluidly, like graceful ‘ing’ verbs flying through the air. Iterating. Experiencing setbacks. Course correcting. And ultimately, improving.

Here is my highly subjective synopsis of these three categories.

VILLAINS – These are the people who wittingly or unwittingly behave in ways that make the unprepared feel “less than.” They destructively put down, or they bully, or they yell, or all of the above. As an excuse in a moment of seeming clarity, they may say, “Hey, I know I’m tough and abrasive, but this is how I get things done.”

If you recognize a villain’s typical playbook and patterns, you can innoculate yourself more effectively. Every workplace seems to attract villains, but assuming your corporate culture is relatively positive, there shouldn’t be too many lurking. If this is not the case, get out. Or could it be that you are behaving with a victim mentality?

VICTIMS – I have the hardest time with this role, as I am a reforming victim. My wife is the first to hit me upside the head during those moments when I wear a big “V” on my forehead. And therefore I’m sensitive when others in my presence complain why something is or is not happening to them, or much more often, why it always does. Victims like labeling themselves with negative characterizations and engaging in self deprecation. “I am bad at math, PowerPoint, directions, remembering names, cooking, finding a mate, keeping a mate, losing weight…”

Victims get quite divisive and agitated about politics. “If Clinton wins, I’m moving to Canada!” “If Trump wins, I’m moving to…ummm…Canada!” “If Sanders wins I’m moving to Stalingrad!” OK, that’s the only one I haven’t heard.

In short, they are big on making excuses and blaming others – or society as a whole – for their real or imagined plight and/or failure to get ahead in life. Our workplaces are increasingly filled with victims, or have you not been reading the Interwebs lately. The tragedy is that victims rarely “win” or succeed in their aims. Even when they do, the savoring of victory is often short and hollow. In his book, The Charge, Brendon Burchard calls the most extreme example of victim mentality “the caged life.”

Speaking of Brendon Burchard, every personal development expert I’ve ever read or listened to – from Napoleon Hill to Tim Ferriss – says the same thing. We as individuals are fully responsible for our thoughts, behaviors and actions. It is the ultimate and potentially only source of our control.

And this always fills me with hope and optimism, because the results to be gained by proactively taking the wheel and steering ourselves toward a more positive direction more consistently are huge. And so let’s conclude our story with some good old-fashioned…

HEROES – Here are seven words.

Determination. Focus. Courage. Resilience. Empathy. Directness. Generosity.

Yes, I have read umpteen definitions of the qualities that constitute a hero. ‘Courage’ and ‘resilience’ are the ones that popped up most frequently, but with the help of a beautiful TOPS Double Docket Legal-Rule Notepad, I wrote down these other terms, and then placed all of them in a sequential order that means the most to me.

In short, we have the opportunity to:

1. Act with more determination, particularly when experiencing setbacks
2. Maintain focus and consistency for longer periods of time
3. Behave with more courage as we willingly take on new challenges and face the inevitable headwinds of life
4. Build up our resilience and stamina, particularly when we don’t succeed
5. Increase our empathy by staying attuned and responding to the needs of others
6. Communicate with more directness – not rudely, but accurately and concisely
7. Practice more generosity with others by helping, giving and praising

There can never be enough heroes.

Decide to think, behave, and take more hero-like actions for the people in your life and yourself in some little way each day, even if you screw up every freakin’ day. You’ll get better at it over time, as we do in any area we place more intention on more consistently.


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