“You think me the child of circumstances; I make my circumstances.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century American philosopher, essayist, and poet
Imagine picking up your newspaper and finding these announcements in the “Births” section:
Mr. and Mrs. Blue Collar proudly announce the birth of Jack, a construction foreman. At 13 lbs., 12 oz., he arrived with a bellowing cry and tattoos, and whistling rudely at the nurses.
Wilma and Sam Klutz are sad to announce the arrival of an underachiever. Mia Klutz came complete with slumped shoulders, listless eyes and a whiny cry. Birth was by caesarian section.
Mr. and Mrs. Weir Skilled happily announce the birth of their daughter Heidi, a highly effective leader. Heidi Skilled arrived full of confidence and energy. Her vibrant vision and well-grounded values inspired and energized everyone in the delivery room. She immediately put her natural leadership skills into action by pulling the team together to map out processes for ongoing personal, group, and organization improvements.
Tomorrow the maternity pool has bets on the arrival of a genetic scientist, a space station entrepreneur, an intergalactic pilot, a break-and-enter artist, and a Secretary for Tax Complication and Deficit Financing.
These “births” are clearly ridiculous fiction. You’ll never see anything like them in your newspaper. Yet they reflect an equally ridiculous view a lot of people have about leadership development. Many people believe that they just weren’t born leaders (speakers, writers, negotiators, strategists, facilitators, etc.) and there’s not much they can do about it. They feel that the leadership skills, attributions, and characteristics they now have are pretty much what they’re stuck (or blessed) with.
If I am not working hard to continually improve my leadership skills because I wasn’t “born with natural talent” then I am either copping out, misinformed, or both. I am unknowingly or knowingly choosing to be a “reasonable” thermometer manager that follows the crowd rather than an “unreasonable” thermostat leader blazing my own trail. I have decided to let my luck run amuck (in the words of that noxious song, “whatever will be will be”). I am choosing not to control my own destiny, so somebody else probably will.
I have decided not to immunize myself against the deadly Victimitis Virus. I am choosing to raise my levels of pessimism and helplessness. And I have decided to leave my team or organization’s improvement levels as low as my personal improvement standards are. As Zig Ziglar, the personal effectiveness speaker and author who had an impact on me early in my career, puts it, “All of life is a series of choices, and what you choose to give life today will determine what life will give you tomorrow.”
While my fictional “birth announcements” were ridiculous and far fetched, here’s a fictional “death notice” of a manager who succumbed to the Victimitis Virus that could be closer to the truth:
He died a penniless man. His bankrupt business he blamed on high taxes, low tariff protection, a non-supportive wife, unfair competition, militant unions, lazy dishonest workers, a weak economy, unlucky timing, high interest rates, conservative bankers, bureaucratic regulators, weak managers, poor consulting advice, and general bad luck. He died of malnutrition buying lottery tickets, four leaf clovers, and rabbit’s feet.