Scapegoat, anyone?

Recently, I was asked to coach a leader in a big organization. I was told that he “is the problem child” and needs to be fixed. This is not a unique situation.

Whether he is or isn’t a problem is not the issue. The problem is that by saying he is, he is. Even if he’s not.

Here’s the thing.  Actually, here’s 2 things:

  • When you put a label on a member of your team, you have created a bias in your brain and in the brain of anyone you have told. They look at Brian and know he’s a problem so their brains do what our brains do. They map to what we already know. We already know Brian is a problem. So everything Brian does validates that belief. We see it so clearly. The label is, of course, accurate. Duh.
  • We take our attention off our own impact. Since Brian is the problem (he’s a challenger, a contrarian, difficult, fill in your own blank), when I remove Brian from the team ….

I’m not a psychologist, but this is a real thing in psychology. It’s called Scapegoat Theory, and it refers to the tendency to blame someone else for one’s own problems, a process that often results in feelings of prejudice toward the person or group that one is blaming. Scapegoating serves as an opportunity to explain failure or misdeeds, while maintaining one’s positive self-image (definition comes from asking Google )

I’m betting you see this in your organization. I see it frequently on teams I work with. And maybe it’s true. Maybe Brian is a problem.

This is challenging stuff to cipher through with just the committee in your head. Get some objective perspective. Look at this situation through a different lens.  One of my mentors, Dr Michael Broom, provides this lens… “for a human system to be doing what it’s doing, everyone in it must be doing what they are doing”.

Now what’s possible?