Does There Need To Be A Villain?

Does There Need To Be A Villain?

Does There Need To Be A Villain?



The essence of a classic story plot is the hero and the villain, the good guy and the bad guy, the protagonist and the antagonist. It is interesting how much we use this paradigm in our everyday living. The driver who cuts us off in traffic on the way to work is a jerk. The coffee barista who is taking forever to serve people when you are running late is inept. The boss who is breathing down your neck for a report is overbearing. The spouse who left dishes in the sink is inconsiderate.

It seems to be in our nature to set up a storyline with us as the Hero and the person who annoys us or isn’t doing what we want as the Villain. You might argue that it is human nature to be this way. It is a way of protecting ourselves. Thousands of years ago humans needed to decide, sometimes in a split second, whether the person coming towards them was friend or foe.

Stories also help us to make meaning about what is going on around us. If we can fit a set of circumstances into a familiar storyline in our head, we can process the information more quickly and decide how to act. One of these storylines, of course, is the Hero and Villain.

The problem is we tend to fill in a lot of the gaps in the story with our own ideas about what is happening. And then we act on, or react to, the story that we have told ourselves.

For example:

The colleague who asks a lot of questions on a conference call is trying to make it more difficult to get the project completed. “They” are trying to protect themselves or hold on to their territory.

The person who sends you an email saying “I told you this answer already” is trying to prove you don’t know how to do your job or at the very least is extremely annoyed that you asked twice.

The direct report who doesn’t seem to be following directions is being defiant and wants to get under your skin.

What is the cost of telling ourselves “Villain” Stories?

We get sidetracked by emotions and then we get stressed out by those emotions. Then we become less effective. We don’t listen as well. We don’t think as clearly. We are less creative and less likely to think of alternatives and options. We are less able to connect with others and less effective at persuading, influencing or leading.

How can you reduce the villains in your world?

  • Notice when you are starting to tell yourself a villain story.
  • Pause and reconsider what you are seeing, hearing and feeling.
  • Check the facts and get more information.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. (Approach the situation as if the person has the best of intentions.)
  • Observe the situation from a neutral perspective.
  • Recognize that there is generally more than one side to a story.
  • Search for understanding, find common ground, work together to discover a solution.

Coaching Challenge:

For the next few days, pay attention to how many times you tell yourself “Villain” stories. Then pick one or two to think about differently. Notice what happens as a result. Send me an email at and tell me how your new “story” turns out.

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Welcome to the Listening to the Leader in You Blog

Super-leaders arm themselves with insight. This blog is where you’ll find concepts, ideas, resources and more for honing your full set of leadership capabilities. 
Lynn Schaber, MCC
For the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to partner with individuals intent on cracking the code to leadership beyond the ordinary.