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Wow!  Is that not cool or what!  Next year’s Puppy Bowl MVP!

That talented beagle is going to help us take up the challenge of being stricken by learned helplessness.

But first; what again is this learned helplessness business?  To quickly summarize (though it’s way better to do a quick read of the Stricken post) we learn to be helpless when, as a result of experiencing uncontrollable events we start to think that future events will also be uncontrollable, which leads us to extrapolate and generalize and believe that everything that happens is beyond our control and there’s nothing we can do …

To extricate out of this unwell, stricken state, we need to unlearn our helplessness.

Unlearning requires rediscovering our capability to take action and exert influence.

Unlearning can begin by playing catch.

*     *     *     *     *

Imagine that that beagle was one of Pavlov’s dogs a few years back.  Imagine that, through harmless (though discomforting) shocks she was conditioned to no longer fetch.  Every time she attempted, she would experience the discomfort of the shock; she eventually learned to not fetch, even when there were no shocks anymore…

In fact, she even came to believe that she couldn’t do anything requiring movement of any kind.

Until her trainer started tossing a ball right at her.

I imagine that the first few throws just harmlessly hit her, without her moving.  Soon, though, she would sit up, and, soon thereafter, she would begin reaching … and omigosh she started to catch…

Can you imagine her thinking? —  If I could catch, what else can I do?  Wait a minute; do you think I might even be able to fetch?

And, before you know it, she’s running with the ball!

*     *     *     *     *

And what exactly is the organizational leadership equivalent of throwing a few balls and playing catch?

  • Initiate a once a week stand up meeting and ask people to share what decisions they’ve made; what choices they made; what is working; what they’re learning.  Catch!
  • When delegating a new assignment, only specify the ends — the goal or desired result — but don’t prescribe the means, or how they should go about working the assignment.  Catch!
  • Establish a recurring meeting requiring people to report on the status of key deliverables or project milestones.  The key here is not to drive accountability as much as it is to promote action and movement.  Catch!

What other ways can you think of to “throw the ball?”  Share ’em!  The only qualifying requirement is that they all, in effect, engage and empower.

*     *     *     *     *

We are never helpless, really; we only perceive that we are.  We are, in fact, powerful.  Capable.  We very definitely can, and do, influence outcomes and results.

Leaders: throw the ball.

We can, and will, choose to catch.

In doing so, we will catch capability.

And will be stricken no more.