From presidents to parents, we are all leaders in some way. Every day we make choices that matter. In this multi-part series, we encourage readers to consider their choices as leaders using HopeLab’s Questions for a Curious Leader. The goal? To spark a personal, fiercely honest reflection that supports greater clarity – where new possibilities and perspectives can then emerge.
We can be fully committed to taking 100% responsibility for our lives and living with integrity even if we know we will fall short at times. It’s not about perfection. It’s about intention and commitment. How might we begin to appreciate what it means to take 100% responsibility, being fully accountable for our lives and our decisions?
To better understand this, at HopeLab, we often use a simple tool – the so-called “drama triangle” to help us discern whether we are taking more than or less than 100% responsibility. The drama triangle has three roles on it – the villain, the victim and the hero. Each role demands the presence of at least one of the others in order to exist. (A hero needs a victim to rescue, a villain needs a hero to blame, etc.)
Let’s take a closer look at each role.
What are we doing when we choose (and it is a choice) to play the victim? As victims, we feel at the effect of the world, overwhelmed and powerless. We may complain of being overworked, underappreciated, and tired, but we continue to seek out situations that will cause us pain and suffering so heroes rescue us or villains exploit us.
When we find ourselves saying “I don’t have a choice,” or “I can’t get out of this,” or “I have to sacrifice myself,” we’re playing the victim. We have sad eyes and sorry excuses. As victims, we feel so burdened. We take less than 100% responsibility for our circumstances and seek out heroes to come to our rescue or villains to blame.
What about the villain? Every drama requires a great villain! As villains, we play the juicy part of blaming others or ourselves, zeroing in on someone or something to criticize. We finger-wag. We are masters of the blame game. Self righteous in our condemnations, villains are “my way or the highway” actors. We might be cynical, narcissistic, puritanical, or sarcastic, but we are always right. Just ask us.
When you find yourself saying “You’re doing it all wrong!”, “Whose fault is this anyway?” or you’re blaming the government, the DMV, or the weather for your woes, you’ve cast yourself in the role of the villain.
Villains gladly take more than 100% responsibility for a situation so we can blame ourselves when things don’t turn out as we’d like or less than 100% so we can blame others. Who cares as long as we get to place the blame? As villains, we require victims or heroes.
Finally, the hero! It’s evident why one might not wish to be a villain or a victim, but what could possibly be wrong with wanting to be a hero? Well for one thing, on the drama triangle, it demands we perpetuate others acting like victims or villains so we can maintain our hero status. It’s exhausting, but somebody has to do it.
As heroes, we crave problems to fix and people to save. We will protect, analyze, listen, provide, and go the extra mile, all in an attempt to seek temporary relief from pain or discomfort we would just as soon not face. For example, doing workarounds for colleagues rather than having a direct conversation with them about their performance. Or paying an addict’s rent rather than allowing her to bottom out.
When we find ourselves saying “I’ll keep you from harm,” or “I’ll make it all better,” or “I can do it all right now,” we’re playing the hero.
As heroes, we take on more than 100% responsibility so we can feel appreciated and acknowledged. We love the applause. We live for the curtain call and the standing O.
These are the actors on the drama triangle—victim, villain, and hero—and they can consume us, running the show, leaving our integrity in shambles and our energy drained.
In some of our more elaborate performances, we even play the roles of victim, villain and hero all by ourselves. We’re a one-person show: as the victim, we cry about being loaded down with work, as the hero, we stay up all night to complete the job, then as the villain, we gossip at the water cooler, blaming others for our woes.
Sound familiar? So, what to do?
Step off the off the drama triangle and into presence, fully into our lives. Stop blaming, rescuing or whining. Seek meaningful resolution and accountability. Keep the promises we make. Stop saying things about others we would be unwilling to say in their presence. Exchange self-righteous certainty for curiosity.
100% responsibility for 100% of our lives. It’s our ticket to integrity, to energetic lives of impact, connection and purpose. Better than any drama. It’s the greatest show on Earth.
This blog series is based on the writing of Pat Christen, Susan Edsall, Chris Murchison and Richard Tate. In creating Questions for a Curious Leader, we’ve benefited greatly from the contributions of several colleagues and partners. To learn more, please download the quick reference guide.