Being a Victim Won’t Make You a Good Boss

This past Sunday, someone on our staff sent me a text about a payroll issue. Everyone on our team gets paid at the end of the month and a paycheck should have hit this person’s account the previous Friday, but it never happened. Not exactly what any of us want, and truly a frustrating experience for them.

But, when I got the text, something happened for me that tends to happen a lot. I felt sorry for myself and frustrated at everyone else. Here’s why:

First, why had this happened? Either someone on our team or someone at our payroll company dropped the ball along the way—someone got payroll wrong—which meant I then had to deal with it over the weekend. I’m the boss. I have a lot of things going on. Payroll isn’t my job. And, I also happened to be on vacation. So, why was I having to deal with a payroll issue? On top of it, I have so much stuff to get done right now and having to stop to focus on fixing the payroll issue was going to take away from my other work—work that desperately needed doing—so that I could spend 20 minutes figuring things out.

Do you see the thread here? The common posture of my entire, immediate talk track? I felt so sorry for myself. I was only paying attention to my own needs and how they were affected. In other words, I was playing the victim.

Getting Honest with Ourselves

If we’re all being honest, especially as leaders and managers, we all do the same thing. Playing the victim is common because we constantly have people coming to us, asking us for things, not meeting our expectations, making mistakes, being weird in the office, and a whole host of things that happen when you’re working alongside the same people every day. We get frustrated that we have to deal with a particular issue. We compare our work to other managers who don’t seem to have to face or deal with all of the “problems” we face. Their jobs just seem easier. They seem to have things together. And, we resent our team members for putting us in this position. If they only understood how hard this was or what was going on with us, they wouldn’t bother us as much.

But, this kind of mentality—victim mentality—is destructive for two reasons.

First, this kind of talk track sucks our energy. We get stuck in mental patterns that translate to emotions we have to process and work through, usually anger and frustration. And, second, they’re just entirely unproductive. Being angry or mentally obsessing is not the same thing as working through the issue at hand.

So, I’ve been trying to reframe my thoughts for the past few years, shifting out of victim mentality and into something more productive. Here’s what that has looked like for me:

  1. Reframing the issue. First, when I notice myself playing the victim and feeling sorry for myself, I try to shift into seeing an issue for what it really is: Simply a problem that needs to be dealt with. Am I annoyed that I had to deal with a work problem on a Sunday night? Sure, but it is what it is. The world and our staff aren’t out to get me; this thing is just a problem that needs solving.
  2. Realizing that problems are actually my job to address. I try and remind myself that, though a particular task might not be my consistent responsibility, it’s still my job to deal with problems as the company’s CEO. As CEO, it’s my job to support my team and to make sure that obstacles are out of their way so they can get their jobs done. The second I think that those problems aren’t for me to deal with is the second that I’ve misunderstood one of the biggest roles in my job as CEO.
  3. Realizing it’s also my job to deal with the company’s most important problems. Everyone on our staff can handle day-to-day problems. But, when it comes to existential issues or deeper company problems, it’s up to me to figure them out and they have every right and responsibility to ask me to step in.
  4. Starting to deal with the root cause of the problem as early as possible. If I wallow in my victim-ness (I just made that word up…), I’m likely to tackle problems both more emotionally and at more of a surface level. But, when I take a step back and give myself a chance to view an issue with a bit of distance, it allows me to ask deeper questions. I get to see whether or not this problem is actually reflective of a much deeper issue. So, when I look for the root cause, I get to find ways to address what’s causing the problem in the first place—meaning I can help to keep the problem from emerging again. And, I get to be far more productive, which is not only better for me, but better for the company, in the long run.

In short, do you see what this kind of shift does? It helps me to get away from a focus on everything being about me (my time, how things affect me and my life, and how “hard” things are for me), and to instead focus entirely on the problem at hand. What’s even better? That means I’m freed up to then go and tackle even more problems.