Learned helplessness in organizations

By VUCA Blog

My involvement in process facilitation is very much about helping to understand situations that are perceived as problematic.
The suggested sequence is therefore to first understand "what is going on?" in order to then arrive at more suitable approaches for "what to do?".

In a digital leadership training with mid-level managers, I talked about the psychological concept of learned helplessness, originally coined by Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier in the 1960s. It refers to a person's tendency to develop a sense of powerlessness in a situation perceived as uncontrollable, even when the possibility for change or control is actually present.

Knowing the concept and understanding why people may exhibit such behavior strengthens the foundation for effective leadership. This was recognized as meaningful. We had also previously discussed the impact of a #VUCA and #BANI world and the importance of #resilience (individual and organizational).

I asked the managers what influence they have to strengthen the exit from this "learned helplessness" and where they see a responsibility attributed to leadership in order not to fall into the same "victim trap". After all, it is also about resolving the contradictions between wanting to, being able to and being allowed to.

The answers revolved largely around this:

- Management is finally allowed to know where it wants to go.

- It needs a vision and common goals.

- It can make courageous decisions.

- Decisions must be made possible at the point of value creation.

- The framework conditions must promote cooperation and communication.

- Individual bonus systems make it difficult.

- Conflicting goals must be resolved first.

- Less top-down and micromanagement is needed.

- A positive image of people is also needed.

With regard to my initial question, this is good news: many people in the company know what makes it possible to get out of "learned helplessness".
So what else is needed to turn existing knowledge into action?

error: Content is protected !!