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Owner/Victim Thinking at the Tip of the Iceberg

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Later this month, I will be teaching the Ownership Spirit seminar at Dixie Applied Technical College in St. George, Utah.  When I saw this upcoming speaking engagement on my calendar, it reminded me of a letter I recently received from a leader there.  I found it humorous and profound, and hope that it will help you navigate your own teams through your own “deep waters.”

The email came from Kelle Stephens, Vice President of Instruction.  She writes:

Yesterday we had faculty “bookclub.”  We reviewed the first section of Ownership Spirit.  One of the faculty, Dave Seely, told a great story.  He remembers being a kid and watching Titanic with his parents….not the Celine Dion music extravaganza one…the old black and white.  His mom had been a choir director his entire life…so when the part came on where the ship was sinking and the choir director assembled the sorry victims and led them in hymns, he remembered her dabbing her eyes and remarking about how perfect it was….to go down singing the hymns.  Then he recalled his father saying: “Bullshit!  They oughta be finding something to float on!”  Perfect illustration of the difference between Victims and Owners! 

My staff is loving the book.  They are pulling spouses, adult kids, and friends into the reading.  I think it is going to make a long term difference in my ability to move this group forward. 

It has been a long time since I have seen the 1953 version of this movie.  But, I found a copy of those final, ending scenes that Dave Seely referenced and rewatched it.


As I did so, I was struck by a few thoughts.  First, that we can find great examples of Owner and Victim thinking all around us.  This is the difference that defines the human experience.  The story of Owner vs. Victim is, in fact, the context from which all other stories are told.  It is universal.  And even in circumstances that seem bleak and unalterable, we still have the power of that most fundamental choice, even if it is only in attitude.

Second, like Dave’s mom, I’ll have to admit I was quite touched by the doomed, singing passengers.  There is something quite appealing about their martyrdom, and they clearly get our sympathy–the stoic captain, the “brave” father, the sober boy.  I was tempted to see them as admirable, facing their imminent doom with such stiff upper lips.  This should be a red flag to each of us.  Do we engage in Victim thinking, just so that we can get the sympathies and concerns of others?  Rather than looking for solutions, do we simply resign ourselves to our “inevitable” fate?  Would we rather be pitied than be found working to solve the problem?  Are we just “making the best of a bad situation” or are we actually making a bad situation better?

The final thing which struck me about Dave’s comment was the phrase, “he remembers being a kid.”  This experience in Dave’s living room happened a long time ago, decades even.  And yet, it was such a powerful, pivotal moment, that he remembers it to this day.  The teaching moment that his father created has stayed and impacted Dave for years.  It was a good reminder to me again, of how powerful our words are to those around us.  When we are in a position of leadership, we better be thinking like an Owner because those who are following us, working with us, learning from us, and being raised by us, really are watching and listening.  

I’m interested in your thoughts.

By the way, the upcoming seminar at DXATC on Wednesday, October 27th is open to the public.  Please call 800-622-6463 or email us here if you are interested in attending.

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