Conquering the Defeatist Mentality

Conquering the Defeatist Mentality

“We’re too busy and stretched too thin to track that.” This was the response I received when asking where the team stood on the annual goals and operating metrics.

I further queried, “Should you hire me as a consultant until the staff is able to take over these responsibilities?” Nope, there wasn’t a budget for that.

For months, team members were telling me the company was in a bad state. Departments’ goals were not being met. Attention was constantly focused on doing more with less. The work environment was uninspiring as wins were few. The future appeared bleak.

Despite this, the department seemed unwilling or perhaps unable to invest in change. They were doing all the wrong things. Everyone was busy rearranging chairs on the titanic. However, they had gotten so accustomed to switching up the seating patterns it felt safer than trying to consider an alternative.

Why do we desperately cling to the familiar even when we recognize it isn’t working? Why self-comfort by continuing the very activities that caused us to get into this undesirable state?

Fear of the unknown is a powerful influencer. It can cause the brave to freeze and make the smart become stubborn. When a team is locked in this group mentality, conquering defeatism can be quite the herculean task.

To overcome this hopeless mindset, try the following:

  • Meet individually with management. Acknowledge both the current situation and the effect it had on the workplace environment. Offer support and actionable objectives but make it a group policy to no longer allow excuses.
  • Call attention to the mission. If logic isn’t working, make an emotional call to action. Remind the team why they first signed on for this job and how the company’s mission affects the wellbeing of others. Appeal to their sense of being part of something bigger than they are before laying out ways to get this team’s initiatives back on track.
  • Work together with the team members to come up with small, achievable steps. Track these initiatives and report both successes and challenges. Leverage this effort into larger team wins.

It can be extremely difficult to overcome defeatism, especially when that mentality becomes a group mindset. But by agreeing to stop making excuses, having open dialogue about the current situation, and deciding on small steps to move forward, a team can save itself from failure and move towards success.


Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here.

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