Know Your Owners and Victims

Those who follow the part of themselves that is great will become great. Those that follow the part that is small will become small.
– Mencius

The people you motivate will tend to divide themselves into two categories: owners and victims.

Owners are people who take full responsibility for their happiness, and victims are always lost in their unfortunate stories.

Victims blame others and victims blame circumstance and victims are hard to deal with.

Owners own their own morale. They own their response to any situation. (Victims blame the situation.)

At a seminar, a company CEO named Marcus approached Matt at the break:

"I have a lot of victims working for me," Marcus said.

"It's a part of our culture," Matt answered.

"Yeah, I know, but how can I get them to recognize their victim tendencies?"

"Try something else instead," Matt said. "Try getting excited when they are not victims. Try pointing out their ownership actions; try acknowledging them when they are proactive and self-responsible."

"Okay. What are the best techniques to use with each type of person?" Marcus asked. "I mean, I have both. I have owners, too. Do you treat them differently?"

"With the owners in your life, you don't need techniques. Just appreciate them." Matt said. "And you will. With the victims, be patient. Hear their feelings out empathetically. You can empathize with their feelings without buying in to their viewpoint. Show them the other view. Live it for them. They will see with their own eyes that it gets better results."

"Can't I just have you come in to give them a seminar in ownership?" Marcus said.

"In the end, even if we were to train your staff in ownership thinking, you would still have to lead them there every day, or it would be easy to lose. Figure your own ways to lead them there. Design ways that incorporate your own personality and style into it. There is no magic prescription. There is only commitment. People who are committed to having a team of self-responsible, creative upbeat people will get exactly that. Leaders whose commitment isn't there won't get it. The three basic things you can do are:

  1. Reward ownership wherever you see it.
  2. Be an owner yourself.
  3. Take full responsibility for your staff's morale and performance.

Marcus looked concerned. We could tell he still wasn't buying everything.

"What's troubling you?" Matt asked.

"Don't be offended."

"Of course not."

"How do I turn around a victim without appearing to be that annoying 'positive thinker'?"

"You don't have to come off as an annoying positive thinker to be a true leader. Just be realistic, honest and upbeat. Focus on opportunities and possibilities. Focus on the true and realistic upside. Don't gossip or run down other people. There is no reliable trick that always works, but in our experience, when you are a really strong example of ownership, and you clearly acknowledge it and reward it and notice it in other people (especially in meetings, where victims can hear you doing it), it gets harder and harder for people to play victim in that setting. Remember that being a victim is essentially a racket. It is a manipulation. You don't have to pretend that it's a valid point of view intellectually, because it is not."

"Okay, I see. that sounds doable," Marcus said. "But there's one new employee I'm thinking about. He started out great for a few months, but now he seems so lost and feels betrayed. That's his demeanor, anyway. How do I instill a sense of ownership in him?"

"You really can't instill it," said Matt. "Not directly. Ownership, by its nature, is grown by the owner of the ownership. But you can encourage it, and nourish it when you see it. You can nurture it and reward it. You can even celebrate it. If you do all those things, it will appear. Like a flower in your garden. You don't make it grow, but if you do certain things, it will appear."

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