A major problem we see time and again in workshops and consulting work is how individuals and entire management teams learn how to become more and more powerless. The insidious thing about learned helplessness is many people don’t even recognize they have it. The Victimitis Virus is a silent killer moving so stealthily that sufferers don’t recognize its symptoms. The fascinating thing is how it runs up and down all levels of so many organizations.
A central theme of my fictional story of Pete Leonard in Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work was how he gave his power away by acting as if he was powerless. He and his team slowly learned how to be more and more helpless.
A Moose on the Table reader e-mailed me that she quite liked the book. She bitterly complained, though, about not being in a position of power or authority the way she thought Pete Leonard and the other characters were. She was partially right, in that this book was directly applicable to those in supervisory or management roles. I targeted that group because they are the ones who so often disempower themselves; everyone else in the organization tends to see them as being more powerful than “the Petes” often see themselves as being. Pete’s experiences were to provide a model for that group. They were also to provide a broader model for anyone wrestling with communication and courage.
Unfortunately, this reader fell into the trap of believing that power and authority come from position. I have long emphasized that leadership is an action, not a position. Leaders make it happen.
When we released Moose on the Table, I delivered a national series of one-day Breaking through the Bull workshops. During one session, a participant blurted out, “Shouldn’t senior management be addressing the moose issues and providing the leadership you’ve been discussing?” My answer was of course they should. But many don’t.
That leaves you with three choices. 1. Live with the status quo (too many people who do that then jump on the Bitter Bus with lots of criticizing, condemning, and complaining.) 2. Quit. 3. Provide strong leadership within your own team or area while practicing upward leadership. Too many people working under ineffective managers stay in unhappy situations, don’t strengthen their own leadership, and choose to become victims of poor leadership from above. If you’re one of them, pull yourself out of the muck and head toward the leadership stairs.