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Seven Signs of Organizational Victimhood

Organizational victimhood results from leadership institutionalizing a culture of spectators unable to see themselves as part of a problem or a solution. The aim here is to show how the concepts of connectedness and interdependence dictate which behaviors an organization is likely to manifest.

Long after his retirement Ernie Banks, the legendary first baseman and shortstop for Chicago Cubs of the 50s and 60s, granted an interview in which he was asked what he was most grateful for during his major league baseball experience. Mr. Banks had a long and resilient career, resulting in 2,600 hits and over 500 home runs.  You can imagine the challenging work and support he must have enjoyed in amassing these types of statistics, so I expected that he would respond to this question with something like “the organization that gave me the opportunity” or “my teammates” or “the loyalty of the fans.”  But instead, he immediately replied he was most grateful for the pitchers. The interviewer, surprised by this answer, pressed for clarification because it seemed odd that a hitter would give any pitcher recognition for anything. He explained that all the talent, challenging work, and support for him as a player would never have transformed into hits and home runs if there were not a pitcher working to keep him from doing exactly that.


Mr. Banks may have been trying to be provocative with his counter-intuitive response, but my sense is that he was honoring the fundamental dynamic of connectedness. Without the drama that surrounds whether an at-bat will end in an out or a hit (or home run), what remains is the simple fact that the hitter and pitcher are not only necessary for each other but are inextricably linked. But connectedness exists regardless of how a hitter, or a pitcher feel about it. What Mr. Bank’s response illustrates is a higher level of connectedness, which is interdependence. Rather than see himself as a victim, he understood that he and the pitcher were integral to their outcomes, whatever they may be. He knew the level of preparation each of them brought to these encounters dictated whether he would be a .274 hitter, his career average, or a .254 hitter, the average for all players the year he retired.

Environments of victimhood focus on blaming, wishing, attacking, cajoling, and the recycling of ineffective solutions, grudgingly acknowledging the utility of connectedness, but stopping there. Interdependence facilitates a more efficient use of energy, moving the organizational focus toward total engagement of individuals, ideas, and objective reflection about the best way to achieve results. Personal experience has taught me the following:


  1. Leadership VALIDATES Incongruent Objectives – For example, they might espouse teamwork but all along the way promote the opposite behavior by recognizing individual achievement only. In these environments misdirected urgency is rewarded, and mediocrity is tolerated.
  2. Leadership Honors INAUTHENTIC Information. They elevate and perpetuate the standing of the irrelevant or unimportant, leading to undependable analytics and wasting the organization’s physical and intellectual capital.
  3. Leadership COMPARTMENTALIZES Resources. They silo individuals and information, making it impossible to address high-leverage challenges in a holistic manner. They are event-focused versus systemic-focus, looking for names and faces to put on problems and lacking endurance to investigate what lies at the root of organizational problems.
  4. Leadership Is Primarily TRANSACTIONAL – They view constituents as they do physical assets; as things to be managed and abided rather than truly accepted partners, integral to overall performance.
  5. Leadership is INATTENTIVE – There is no organizational ability to assess what has brought it to the current state or what might result going forward, no acknowledgement of potential blind spots, and no clear permission structure to address challenges in the environment.
  6. Leadership MILITARIZES Culture – They create a dynamic of department stiffening positions, building territories, rationalizing mistakes, and creating defenses to make sure that nothing gets in or out.
  7. Leadership Worships SHORTCUTS – There are times when speed is needed to address challenges, but if it is the default paradigm, motivation to build sustainable solutions to organizational challenges will erode. What is effective will suffer at the altar of what is efficient or expedient.

These signs of victimhood may appear to be different and distinct, but what lies at their root is fragmentation of the organization’s ability to be cohesive in achieving its performance requirements. They also expose leadership’s role in abetting the process.

Recognition of the seven signs is the first step for leadership to shift the culture. To achieve this, Leadership should consider:

  1. Strengthening Middle Management – Constituencies above and below this level of the organization can have more narrow agendas. Upper management tends only to be performance-driven, while employees and associates migrate toward work-life balance and economic preservation. Middle Management must be adept at reconciling these sometime competing interests. The team concept should be reoriented away from one of, “people that report to me” to “people who face and embrace the same challenges as me.” Those tend to be other middle managers.
  2. Scheduling Non-Financial Alignment Audits – Organizations need methods to assess the effectiveness of strategic initiatives, not necessarily triggered by financial results. Attempts to do this on the heels of financial results tends to be reactive in nature and robs the organization of the will and opportunity to reflect deeply on what changes are necessary.

Organizations require meaningful interdependence-driven processes to move from a culture of spectators or individuals who happen to be connected, to one of participants who are interdependent and driving toward results.

Jess Villegas

Jess Villegas

Jess is the principal of ACUITY Business Performance Consulting. He is a Financial and Operations Executive, Business Performance Consultant, and Leadership Expert with track record of growing profitability in multi-site manufacturing, assembly, and distribution environments. View Jess's Profile

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