April 12, 2011

Why we should feel bad for Muammar Gaddafi

Poor Gaddafi. He's not the worst despot in town, just perhaps the most picked on. Somehow, out of all the violent leaders around, he's managed to raise the collective ire of countries with enough firepower to make his life miserable. Why does this happen to him?

Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi attends a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the Quirinale Palace on June 10, 2009 in Rome, Italy. Colonel Gaddafi is in Rome to attend a meeting of G8 Development Ministers.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Muammar GaddafiConsider that, facts aside about his actions, what is really going on here is that Muammar Gaddafi is actually the scapegoat for the global community of bad leaders. 

He's not the only scapegoat in town.

Bruce Peltier, in his book, "The Psychology of Executive Coaching", discusses systems thinking and the different roles adults assume in the workplace. They include archetypes such as the star, blamer, rebel and hero. They also include the scapegoat, the person who is assigned the blame when things go wrong and never gets credit when something goes right.

I'm putting myself out here and asserting every large system or organisation has at least one scapegoat, and so do many small companies. You know them well. 

Consider that their existence as the magnet for blame makes it possible for the stars in your company to shine. Also, that they may not be as bad as you think. While Gaddafi has enough tangible proof of his exploits, your scapegoat may deserve a second chance.

Unfortunately, human beings aren't like that. When we've gathered enough information on someone else to form an opinion of them, we hold tight to it and rarely let go. This usually happens the first few seconds we meet them.

Over time, we seek out and find evidence to support our world view. We garner agreement from the people around us and gossip about them. Even if we don't vocalise our ideas, they still remain firmly lodged in our mind. 

Worse, we set up a dynamic of action and reaction. Our scapegoat knows they can't win with us, so think they have something to prove and focus their energies on trying to impress us. Fat chance that will happen! Their performance will only diminish as they operate under threat. We'll see that as more evidence of their incompetence. Without some sort of intervention, they will have no choice to leave. Then, we'll find another scapegoat to take their place.

What can you do about this? First, remember that the people around you only occur a certain way to you because of the language you use to describe them. Your words are the gauge that brings to life their very existence as a known entity. Think about it. Without your language to tell you what and who they are, how else would you know?

Change the language and you may find they start occurring differently.

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