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Two ways of seeing the world!
This blog post is most definitely a derivative work, with my own expansion on the original idea. But let me start by giving credit where credit is due. In a fairly recent blog post, Seth Godin wrote about “grievance and possibility.” It provided an excellent way of understanding a significant difference between Relaxed Leaders focused on continuous improvement and those leaders I think of as “Stagnant” or “Regressive.”
If you aren't reading Seth's daily posts, I really do encourage you to sign up to receive updates from his blog. They generally take a minute or less to read but are full of exceptional insight and have provided me with amazing ideas to ponder!
Okay, now for my own thoughts on the subject...
Settling scores or opening doors?
Seth begins with a nice little rhyme, which makes it a lot easier for me to remember the concept. Here’s my stripped-down version of it:
Are we settling scores or opening doors?
That question is at the root of this discussion – this comparison – of grievance and possibility. On the surface, it may seem like they are two rather unrelated concepts but they actually do a fine job of illustrating a couple very different (and common) worldviews. Relaxed Leaders would be wise to understand these two opposing approaches because one is completely in line with our REAL values and the other can easily suck us in and lead us down the wrong path.
But let’s start by looking at what we mean by each of these terms...
First, let’s be clear that grievance is NOT about grieving.
Grieving – the act of suffering grief – is a very healthy and natural thing. It’s the way humans react to a significant loss. There can be many different reasons for our sadness but people who are grieving often find themselves feeling numb. They may even struggle to carry on with daily life while experiencing such a deep sense of loss.
Grievance, on the other hand, is a very unhealthy thing (though it does seem unfortunately “natural” for far too many people). The dictionary defines grievance as “a real or imagined wrong or other cause for complaint or protest, especially unfair treatment.” Though this definition is a good start, I’m actually talking about grievance as a worldview – as an approach to planning and taking action – which becomes very dysfunctional very quickly!
As Seth points out, “Grievance is the narrative of getting even.” By it’s very nature then, it’s a backward-looking approach. It focuses on what has gone before, holding on to past “wrongs,” whether they’re real or imagined. It’s related to “holding a grudge” but I think it’s far worse.
We generally think of a grudge as emotional “baggage” we carry with us, weighing us down and making it hard to move ahead. But many such grudges become fairly passive, only rearing their ugly heads when provoked.
I know a guy who has a veritable freight train full of grudges and other “emotional baggage.” All I need to do is mention one fella he worked for about 20 years ago and within seconds his face is read and he’s going off about “that a$$hole,” dropping f-bombs left and right. He’s just as angry as he was 20 years ago! But he’s not always like that. Most of the time he’s not thinking about that fella at all, so it’s a passive anger.
Grievance is active, not passive. It takes your time and attention and focuses it on retribution. You end up using your creative energy for destructive purposes as you find a way to “get back at” the person whom you believe wronged you.
Leaders who operate out of grievance are often the worst examples of Regressive or Stagnant thinkers. Instead of simply striving to go back to some idyllic time they imagine in the past or fighting to maintain the status quo, the grievance worldview can cause them to go to extremes. Sometimes they’ll even tear down existing structures in their quest to get revenge, with little thought to all the collateral damage they’re causing.
Your turn! Tell me in the comments if you know anyone like this… or if YOU struggle with this. I can only speak from my own experience, so I’d love to hear yours. Personally, I know plenty of people who hold grudges but there are some particularly vindictive folks who seem to make it their life’s mission to “get back at” anyone who crossed them.
It’s fairly easy to identify individuals who focus on grievances but it can be trickier to see it at the organizational level. As Seth points out, organizations that do this focus on “getting their share” because they tend to see everything as a zero-sum game. So they focus a lot of energy on the competition – but not in a healthy way that strives for more innovation or better customer service. They want to crush the competition, even if things like innovation and customer service suffer in the process. They see the “pie” as being static and their goal is to have the biggest piece and they lash out at any competitor who they believe is trying to take what they believe is “theirs.”
This type of worldview makes for great TV – or even a blockbuster movie – but it’s not a healthy way to lead. Grievance leads to more grievance, and you’ll find yourself in a cycle of suffering and anger that simply feeds upon itself.
It should be obvious, but possibility isn’t about coming up with some master list of everything that is possible.
Whereas grievance focuses on the past, possibility focuses on the future – on what might be. In the simplest terms, possibility is about potential. When we see the world around us through the lens of possibility, everything expands! We realize it isn’t a zero-sum game. We see that through innovation and creativity, we can make “the pie” even bigger, expanding into amazing new areas and drawing out previously untapped potential.
At a personal level, a Relaxed Leader can also think of possibility as those abilities or qualities that could make a person better in the future. Looking through the lens of possibility, you will start to see the amazing things your team is capable of doing. And you’ll see the amazing potential you have as a leader. The lens of possibility allows us to see the many paths forward, leading towards a better world for everyone.
But it’s not just about seeing the possibilities in the world around us, it’s also about acting as if those possibilities are absolutely real. Just as grievance is an active state, possibility means seeing what might be and then taking action to make it so.
When we do that, some wonderful things begin to happen. First, the “lens” of possibility becomes clearer and we see more and more possibilities. We realize the world is absolutely full of opportunities to innovate, grow, and drive positive change! And like a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it gets. One possibility leads to more possibilities, and we find the opportunities multiplying before our eyes. Talk about opening doors!
Some final thoughts...
Relaxed Leaders certainly acknowledge the existence of legitimate grievances, many of which should be addressed – constructively. I won’t go into it here but suffice it to say the healthiest, most relaxed approach to addressing such “wrongs” still involves moving forward. Lashing out, quietly plotting your revenge, and everything in between remains destructive, which is what we’re generally trying to avoid.
Looking at the world through the lens of possibility is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. For example, I’m not suggesting we try to disguise (or ignore) the ugliness that permeates much of our current public discourse. Relaxed Leaders know life isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, but we also know that looks can be deceiving. We know our outlook can be absolutely colored – or even tainted – by our experiences and the emotions attached to them. Acknowledging this is the first step towards ensuring we are truly seeing the myriad possibilities around us, especially during times when we believe in our hearts that we have a legitimate grievance to settle.
The bottom line...
The comparison of these two “lenses” – of grievance and possibility – demonstrates the opposing nature of these common worldviews. Basically, it’s a choice between destruction and limitations, or creation and expansion. Between settling scores or opening doors. And the choice is absolutely up to us.
Relaxed Leaders understand that grievance looks backwards, focusing us on retribution for past wrongs or leading us to potentially destructive means of “protecting our share.” So let’s make sure we avoid seeing the world through the lens of grievance, for it can easily suck us in and lead us down a very wrong path. Relaxed Leaders don’t choose to “settle scores.”
On the other hand, possibility looks forward, focusing us on seeing all of the opportunities and potential filling the world around us. Approaching life from a place of possibility is much healthier and is completely in line with our REAL values of Respect, Engage, Accept, and Lead.
Relaxed Leaders definitely choose to “open doors!”