Recently, my daughter came home from school in a highly distraught state – her iPod screen was cracked (again).  It seems that she had placed it ‘safely’ in her locker, but then another child came by, banged against the side of her locker and caused the iPod to fall.  My daughter started going into a rant about the other child, blaming her for the broken iPod.  From a leadership perspective, I had a serious issue with this.

Risk management.  Yes, the other child banging into the locker may have been the final action that led to a broken iPod, gravity and rapid deceleration trauma as the iPod hit the ground notwithstanding (she did have it in a case).  It was, however the last in a series of events over which my daughter had complete control.  Some questions that immediately came to mind included:

  • She said she placed it ‘safely’ in her locker – was it truly safe?
  • Could she have taken other measures to ensure that her iPod was safe?
  • Could she have removed the risk?
  • Could she have transferred the risk to someone else?
  • Note that I didn’t ask myself how much will this cost – it’s happened far too frequently and I’m sure I know all the repair shops within a three-hour drive…
  • For those who like to brainstorm, what other methods could potentially have been employed?  A police barrier around the locker?

The Victim Mentality.  Regardless of how she could have handled risk before the fall, how she chose to perceive the event is my greatest concern.  She chose to immediately blame the other person.  Following that route, she is simply a powerless victim, passively unable to influence events around her.  She has no say in the outcome of her life.  Even if we fix the iPod, if it breaks again, it’s just another ‘catastrophic event’ (she is a teenager after all, and gadgetry is her life force) where she is a victim once again.

Empowering yourself.  The prevention of the accident is not the main point of the story – rather, it’s your perception of events as a person and as a leader.  In this case, although my daughter was disappointed about the broken iPod, she should have started asking herself on what she could have done.  “Could I have put it at the back of the locker?”  “Could I have placed it in a pocket, or put it in my bag?”  “Could I have left it home?”  “Could I have asked another kid to hold my iPod for a minute?”  Note that the purpose of these questions is not to blame yourself, but to develop the following:

  • Understanding that you choose how to perceive events in your life.
  • Getting yourself thinking about possible solutions to the problem (prevent future occurrences).
  • Understanding that you have the power to shape your life.

Empowering your team.  As a leader, you must be careful of introducing the victim mentality among your followers – this starts with continuously monitoring yourself.  Your followers will take your lead, so if you are a victim, they will become victims.  If you see one of your followers acting like a victim, take the time to ask them questions on how the issue could have been solved in the first place.  Help them understand that only they can choose how they perceive events.  Only they can choose to go from being a victim to being able to influence their life.

Conclusion.  There will be times in life when there is absolutely nothing that that you could have done to prevent an accident or a terrible event – car crashes, assault, etc.  I am also not advocating that we need to blame the victim.  In many cases, however, there is something that you could have done.  Taking early action, thinking through risks, counseling your followers and even speaking up and identifying a fault that does not directly impact you (seeing a slippery patch of ice near another business) are all ways that you can empower yourself, empower your team, and hopefully avoid future iPod repairs.

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