The victim complex: Don't take the easy way out

November 2013 » Columns » AEC COACH
vic-tim (vik-tim) noun 1. A person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency. 2. A person who is deceived or cheated, as by the dishonesty of others or by some impersonal agency.
Mark Goodale

No, you're not imagining things. The "victim complex" is all too real, and it has stubbornly manifested itself within the ranks of AEC and environmental firms across the industry. A victim complex is evidenced by someone who unfairly blames others for his or her own failures. Perhaps you'll recognize a few of these "victims" yourself – or, dare I ask, are you one of them?

Frazzled Division Manager – You are one of the busiest people in the company with 17 direct reports. Every day is a fire fight. Loyal, doggedly determined, and highly trustworthy, your inadequate staff is always dragging you down. And that's why your revenue will be flat again this year.

What you need to hear: You are probably a great doer, but accomplishing through others is where you struggle. First, reorganize your group so you have no more than four or five direct reports. Second, challenge these "lieutenants" to take on some of your responsibilities. In fact, don't be afraid to ask or even push it on them! Chances are they are starving for the opportunity. And if they truly are not cut out for the job, what are you going to do about it? It's your responsibility to build your own team and make it work.

Neglected Marketing Director – Bright, passionate, and creative, you simply can't get anyone to listen to you. So, you spend most of your time cranking out proposals and generally staying out of the way.

What you need to hear: You better get out of the order-taking mode or you'll never help your company the way you could and should. Do what it takes to be at the strategic planning table and contribute to business unit plans. They need your input and leadership, so you can't afford to be timid. Start reporting to the senior management team regularly on marketing and business development activities – after all, if you can't sell yourself internally, leadership will have a hard time believing you can sell the firm externally.

Wayward Branch Office Manager – Sure, your office has struggled, but you are never kept "in the loop," you don't get any help from the home office, and you have no idea what's going on with the direction of the firm. Most of all, you resent writing big checks every month for corporate "support."

What you need to hear: If you want to be in the loop, get in the loop. Pick up the phone twice a week and give the president a call. Schedule it if you have to. And challenge marketing, human resources, financial, and operations leadership to be your partner in building your area of the business. Tell them exactly what you need and extract it. Corporate functions will always be imperfect; it's up to you to leverage what does exist the best way you can.

Besieged President – You are the heart and soul of the company. Everyone in the firm wonders what's going to happen when you finally retire. You want to leave in five years, but you have significant doubts that any of your partners have what it takes to keep it all together.

What you need to hear: Time to get it in gear. If you don't have a chief operating officer, now is a good time to put your strongest person in that role. The position oversees the operations of all business units and is ultimately responsible for how work is produced. It's a potential grooming position for the next leader. Also, get your second-tier leaders an executive coach. Leadership seminars are fine, but two-day programs seldom churn out stars. They need to practice leadership skills in real time, not just listen to someone talk about them. But if the cream doesn't rise soon, you likely have to seek an external buyer. It may not be your first choice, but it might be the only way you can get your equity out of the firm and provide employees with better opportunities and a brighter future.

If you think about it, a lot more could be in your control if you'd just give yourself permission to act.

Mark Goodale is principal with Morrissey Goodale LLC in Newton, Mass. Morrissey Goodale LLC is a management consulting and research firm that serves the AEC industry. He can be contacted at mgoodale@morrisseygoodale.com.

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