If you’ve ever been in a stressful work situation and encountered unusual behaviors from your colleagues, you’re not alone. Everyone handles stress differently, but how we show up when the chips are down says a lot about whether we’ll continue to search outside ourselves for the cause of our circumstances or seek out opportunities for personal growth.
Another way of giving this idea some thought is to ask if you’re a blamer or a gainer. Are you someone who will take a situation and look for who or what to blame, or will you identify ways to learn or gain something from adversity?
Sports provides no shortage of blamer versus gainer lessons, and golf is no exception. I immediately think of professional golfer Jordan Spieth. Spieth was PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2013 at 20 years old and experienced the kind of spectacular trajectory many golfers only dream about. During the last three years, his career took a less-than-dreamy turn, yet Spieth hasn’t blamed anyone for his fall from the top of the leaderboard. Instead, he has publicly owned up to his challenges in the media, worked hard at overcoming them, and shown signs of his return to greatness. Let’s look at his gainer choices more closely:
Smart leaders know they must look inward first before evaluating a challenge. Rather than fire his coach, point a finger at his caddy, or blame the course conditions, Spieth took ownership of his poor tournament performance from the get-go. Golfweek’s Jim McCabe says, “To know Spieth is to know brilliant honesty. He seized ownership of the early exit [from top standings], conceded that he didn’t meet his lofty expectations, and didn’t deny that he had immediately targeted some fixes.” His ownership not only earned the respect of the golfing community and his coach, but it also allowed him to preserve his dignity. The same applies to the workplace. You can earn the loyalty of your employees and their collaborative problem-solving if you’re willing to own what’s happening with your stakeholders.
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Check it – your attitude, that is.
A negative attitude can be a breeding ground for blame. First, ask yourself what kind of attitude you’re sharing with others. Will your communications inspire buoyancy when times are tough, or will they take on a blaming stance? Spieth has acknowledged on more than one occasion during his lull in performance that his attitude needed adjusting. Spieth said at one point during his Golfweek interview with McCabe, “It just seems I’m so tense, and I just need to get back to the way I enjoy playing golf.” He also recognized that his negative self-talk during one tournament in particular was the reason for his disappointing results. Today, he focuses on an attitude of gratitude and how lucky he feels to be living a dream come true.
Reverse engineer it.
Sometimes the best answers can be found by reverse engineering a problem to identify what went wrong and when. During COVID, Spieth and his longtime coach Cameron McCormick began to analyze his swing, starting with impact and working backward. “He’s swinging much more like he did when he first came out on tour,” McCormick says. “He’s worked very hard over a long period to get his swing to where, when he takes the club back, he’s only got a picture in his mind about the ball flight he’s trying to create.” Visualization isn’t only for athletes. Leaders can use visualization techniques to focus on an aspirational goal. The first step to seeing possibility is often facilitated by working a problem backward.
My experience has been that blaming creates a victim mentality, which can be a roadblock to success. Spieth has chosen the road less traveled by focusing on what can be gained from the challenges he’s experienced along the way. Owning his performance, checking his attitude, and reverse engineering his technique have all been strategies that have helped him work his way back to the leaderboard. Each one of his methods applies to our own lives and how we overcome challenges at work. Which one of Spieth’s strategies will you try next so you can arrive at the pin in fewer strokes?