Which road are you traveling? | September Update

Abraham Lincon, a fine example of taking ownership

“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost


In 1862, the Civil War was moving through its second year, and the North was not faring well.  The first Battle of Bull Run at Manassas had been an ugly defeat and the tide of war was still weighing heavily in the favor of the South.

After that defeat, Lincoln put General George McClellan in charge of the “Army of the Potomac,” which was in disarray. While McClellan was very effective at bringing order and discipline to the troops, he was a reluctant battlefield General. He won several skirmishes when the odds favored him, yet he repeatedly failed to seize the initiative to pursue the enemy. Some historians consider if he had the war might have ended before it radically escalated. A war which affects our culture to this day.
Worse still, in the face of criticism McClellan found every sort of excuse why it wasn’t his fault and took every opportunity to represent himself as the victim of malfeasance of every kind at the cabinet and executive level. Secretary of State William Seward, who he claimed denied him resources, time, troops, equipment, etc, was often the target of his blame.

His “blaming others” led to a groundswell of people calling for Lincoln to dismiss Seward, and possibly others, to a point it became a danger to the presidency and affected the war effort.

Lincoln sets the precedent for accountability

Lincoln took the opportunity at a large public gathering in front of the Whitehouse with newspapers across the country in attendance to speak to this issue.  Lincoln reminded his audience that he was reluctant to speak unless some good come of it (a first lesson for us today).

He went on to reference the scorn heaped upon Seward and Edwin Stanton the Secretary of War, saying “something needed to be said and that it was “not likely to be said better by someone else,” for it was “a matter in which we have heard some other persons blamed for what I did myself” (a second lesson for us today).

He further stated, “I stand here, as justice requires me to do, to take upon myself what has been charged on the Secretary of War” . Explaining they only carried out his intentions. History suggests this is not wholly accurate as many things transpired, poorly, that had occurred without the Presidents knowledge or approval.

The point here?

Before this becomes a history lesson, the point is, unlike any other leader I can recall, Lincoln was famed for never throwing blame on an underling. In fact, he was distinctly unique in this way, a la “Honest Abe.”

He held himself accountable for everything that happened on his watch (the third lesson today).  His authority and ownership that day not only ended the campaign against Seward and Stanton, but brought Lincoln high regard for his honesty integrity and authenticity (a fourth lesson today).

Ownership Accountability

In our work with Momentum Consulting clients, big and small, we have steadfastly represented “ownership accountability” as a pillar of high performance.  Ownership accountability is the type of ownership that Lincoln modeled.

In an organization, this level of accountability means being answerable to all stakeholders for all actions and results (Lincolns third lesson above).  General McClellan represented the opposite of this kind of accountability.

In our leadership, executive and culture work we emphasize the importance of recognizing the “victim paradigm”.  This represents the times we find ourselves unable and point to something other than ourselves as the reason for our incapacity.

What is the Dreaded Drama Triangle™?

First described by Dr. Stephen Karpman in the late 1960’s, the Drama Triangle roles of VictimPersecutor, and Rescuer, and their interplay vividly describe the most common strategies human beings use to manage their fear and anxiety. Renamed the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™ in David Emerald’s book, The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic), the DDT aptly describes the toxic nature of these roles. All three of the roles have their roots in the Problem Orientation and focus on what they don’t want or don’t like. Each role also sees the others as problems to react to.


The Victim role is the central role in the DDT and is the counterpart to the role of Creator in TED*. Victims feel powerless and at the mercy of life’s events and may avoid taking responsibility for their actions, finding it easier to blame others or their circumstances.


The Persecutor is the second role in the DDT, and is the opposite of TED*’s Challenger role. Persecutors can be either people or conditions (such as a health condition) or a situation (such as a natural disaster).



Rescuers look for Victims to save and often are quick to jump in and save the day, even when others are responsible. By fixing and saving others, a Rescuer believes others will appreciate and value them for their good deeds.

Associated with “Victim” is always some level of blame.  The costs personally, and to corporate cultures of this default of blame numbers in the billions of dollars, meanwhile we can avoid any accountability.

I am not representing “ownership accountability” as good or should, nor am I representing victimization as bad, wrong or shouldn’t.  I am simply saying they give different results.  Besides, you and I get caught in the victim dramatization on a regular (daily?) basis.  The critical question is, can we recognize it when we are?

Remember Victor Frankl  (A Man’s Search for Meaning)

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space
In that space we have the power and freedom to choose our response
In the choice is the path to freedom and growth.”

It takes being aware, awake enough to notice.

Are we going to be a reaction to life’s little tests or are we consciously choosing our response, Victim or Owner?

After many years of working within organizations, with leaders and executives and the people they lead and manage, I have come to a simple conclusion about life.  You and I are only ever in one of two places…I’m either stuck in victim mode, or I’m owning the circumstances.  I don’t see any other place.

I put the question forth to you, are you aware of which you are operating in?  It is useful to remember, awareness is a lifetime pursuit.

Frost spoke of taking the road less traveled. I say that is the road of “ownership accountability.” The other, the most traveled road, well you can do the math.  The question is, on which road are you and do you know it?

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