I’ve heard the Ownership Spirit seminar hundreds of times. (I have a front row seat.) I preach Owner/Victim every day, I can spot Owner/Victim thinking with my eyes closed, and I’ve coached leaders all over the country about Owner/Victim cultures. I think I’ve got it down.
But I still have to choose Owner over Victim every single day.
I have a favorite jogging trail that I run. A few mornings ago, as I was running along this path, I saw some tiny, baby goats and lambs in a fenced yard. One of the little goats was up on the block wall surrounding the property and there were lots of his little friends gathered around him. There were even a couple of the goats on my side of the fence looking up at their friend on the wall. As I jogged past, the little goats started bleating at me, particularly these two on my side of the fence.
You might not know this about me, but it happens that I speak goat. (To be honest, I didn’t know it myself until that moment.) As I jogged past, those baby lambs and kids turned and looked right at me, and starting pleading with their eyes and their frantic little sounds. “Help our little friend!” they said. “He’s stuck on that wall. He can’t get down. Please help our little friend!”
I could hear their cries for help. I knew exactly what they wanted. I speak goat, after all.
But I immediately started rationalizing:
This is crazy. Get ahold of yourself, Dennis.
That’s a goat. It has hooves and teeth and it might bite. Who knows what could happen?
That wall is high, I’m not even sure I could reach it if I tried.
What if the owners see me and think I’m stealing their baby goat?
What if someone else jogs by and thinks I’ve totally lost my mind?
Someone else will get him down. Someone who likes goats, or knows about goats, or isn’t possibly allergic to goats, or has a degree in animal husbandry with an emphasis in goat rescue.
One of the little goats by the fence started running back and forth, desperately expressing his anxiety. He looked at me, and then looked up at his friend, looked back at me, and then bleated his cry for help. “Help our little friend!”
It was so clear what he wanted and what he was asking me, you didn’t even have to speak goat to get it. I almost started towards him. But then I remembered:
He’s not even my goat.
This is not my problem. Or my area of expertise.
He has teeth and hooves. Teeth and hooves can hurt. And when exactly did I have my last tetanus shot?
I’m just out for a jog, minding my own business, surely someone else will help. Plus, I’m on course to run a sub-ten-minute-mile here.
And so I kept going. Finished my jog, got my heart-rate up, did my daily cardio, got my endorphins pumping, crossed something off my list.
But I could not shake the image of that little baby goat in trouble. In fact, every time I jog past that spot I wonder how he got down, how long he was up there, who finally came to his rescue. It’s a sore spot, and I joked with my wife, Susan, that I’ve seriously got to consider finding a new jogging path just to ease my regret.
I missed an opportunity. I was too busy thinking like a Victim to help. (Did I mention the hooves and the teeth?) I was too busy with my own agenda to help. (A ten-minute mile, people!) Over the last few months a subtle distinction in Owner/Victim thinking has become very apparent to me. When I am in Victim-mode I am thinking about myself, the situation is all about me, my needs and my view, and whether or not my tetanus booster is up-to-date. When I am thinking and acting like an Owner I can see the greater good, I am willing to be inconvenienced, I go to the trouble for others, and I am even happy to go out of my way to help someone else.
And whether we’re face-to-face with a stranded baby goat, a floundering project manager, or an entire corporate culture that has lost its edge, we have the opportunity every single day, every moment of every single day, to choose Owner over Victim, to choose the greater good over personal concerns–the choice that makes all the difference.
I’m interested in your thoughts.