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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


Fred drops the ball once again. He loses your biggest client through lack of preparation and shoddy work, and all the feedback and coaching you’ve invested in him over the past months seem to have been for naught. You’re livid with frustration, but you know that Fred has a beautiful young family, and you believe that if you fire him, they will suffer.

What’s wrong with this picture? When did you become all powerful and assume responsibility for all sentient beings? Who is responsible for Fred’s failures, and who alone can remedy them? You know the answers to these questions, so why do you hesitate?

It’s probably because you’re a genuinely caring person who wants to do the right thing and who has not yet distinguished between “supporting” and “enabling.” Alcoholics Anonymous has probably done the most to educate people about enabling behavior. When you support people, you give them help in achieving their goals. When you enable them, you protect them from the pain of their failures so that they never learn from them or become fully capable of taking care of themselves in the world. Essentially, by trying to “help” them, you enable them to continue to fail.

In therapy circles, there is a teaching tool pioneered by Stephen Karpman called the Drama Triangle. It explains how people become and remain “losers” or “victims” in life. Imagine a triangle with three “life positions” at the three corners; Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor. Keep in mind that while only one position is called Victim, all three life positions are just different manifestations of the victim position.

In our example, Fred has placed himself in the Victim position through his repeated failures, and on some level tends to view himself as one of life’s “losers.” He has likely perceived your attempts at feedback and coaching as your being his Persecutor (“he’s always bugging me”). You feel guilty about wanting to fire him, so you are tempted to play Rescuer and “save” him from the motivating pain of his repeated failures.

Here’s where it gets interesting, because it’s like musical chairs. In Fred’s mind, you’ve moved from Persecutor to Rescuer. He now moves from Victim to Persecutor because you have placed your success and that of your whole team in jeopardy by attempting to rescue him. Voila! In the ultimate irony, the music stops and you wind up in the Victim position as you begin to fail with Fred through poor organizational results. Just goes to show that the old saying “No good deed goes unpunished” has merit after all.

Am I recommending that you become callous and begin firing people willy-nilly?

Of course not; just that you insist on Win-Win relationships.

People who see themselves as Winners will find a way to win, and people who see themselves as Losers will find a way to lose. If you fire Winners, they will use it as an opportunity to take their success to the next level. If you fire Losers, they will use it as further proof that they are a victim in life.

You don’t have the power to change other people; only they can do that. Heed the advice of the wise person who once said, “For true peace of mind, resign as Master of the Universe.”


Technique #1: Screen for Winners in your selection process; keep Victims out of

your organization.

Technique #2: Be clear about your goals (e.g., are you running a social services

agency or a for-profit business?).

Technique #3: Be a strong leader and be accountable for what you can control,

but don’t take ultimate responsibility for others’ lives.

Technique #4: Work smart; unless the offense is egregious, use the tools of

feedback and coaching before you consider the tool of termination.

Technique #5: Go for the Win-Win or call No Deal and end the relationship; don’t

sentence yourself to an unfulfilling compromise.

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