People who Believe They Have No Control Act as if They Don’t Matter


people who believe they have no control forfeit their power and act as if they don't matter

People who believe they have no control forfeit their power and act as if they don’t matter.


  1. Waits for instructions.
  2. Rejects creative solution-seeking.
  3. Avoids risk.
  4. Gives up quickly.
  5. Complains when results disappoint.

When you try to change things but everything stays the same, eventually you give up.

Three steps to helplessness:

  1. Belief that things won’t change. “Nothing ever changes.”
  2. No effort to create change. “What’s the use?”
  3. Change never happens. “See. I told you things don’t change.”

Leaders propagate helplessness by rejecting suggestions without being curious, punishing responsible mistake-making, and protecting the status quo at all cost.

Two things happen when leaders propagate helplessness. The compliant go along. Everyone else looks for an exit.

The language of helplessness:

  1. I can’t.
  2. I tried and nothing changed.
  3. It won’t work. (Said before trying.)
  4. That’s just the way it is.
  5. Nothing ever changes.
  6. I’ll never be good at … .
  7. I’m going to fail.
  8. It won’t matter.
  9. I’m lousy at … .
  10. Why bother?

Foolish leaders teach people how to be helpless. Wise leaders focus on things within their control.

Perhaps the most important question in leadership isn’t, “What should we do?” Perhaps it’s, “What do we control?”

A long history of helplessness is a leadership issue. 

Dictatorial leaders end up with compliant teams.

Highly regulated industries fall subject to learned helplessness. Governmental and healthcare are two examples where learned helplessness is highly likely.


The opposite of helpless is powerful.

How are you encouraging and releasing the power of others?

  1. Measure and evaluate performance with forward-looking optimism. Ask two questions,
    • “What would you like to do to improve?”
    • “How can I help?”
  2. Expect responsibility. When someone complains, ask, “What have you done about that?” If they haven’t done anything, employ #3.
  3. Generate options and give the power of choice to others.
    • What would you like to do about this?
    • And what else might you try? (Generate options.)
    • Which option would you like to try first?
  4. Apply consequences both positive and corrective. Every time you ignore performance, you drain power from your team.

How do leaders propagate learned helplessness?

How might leaders give power to others?

*I relax my 300 word limit on weekends.