“Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain

If you are in local government, you already understand the important roles collaboration and encouragement play in creating thriving communities around the world.  It is all about helping each other and fostering partnerships.  That is why it is especially important to summon the courage to shake the trap of the “crab mentality.” 

This mindset refers to crabs in a pot of boiling water that constantly pull one another back down in a pointless “king of the hill” competition.  As soon as one crab is about to escape, another drags him back down to the bottom of the pot.  Instead of helping each other out, this mentality ensures the collective demise of the group.  Essentially, it is the ultimate manifestation of the “If I can’t have it, neither can you” philosophy.  This thinking creates a toxic environment and stifles our resiliency.  Especially in this pandemic environment, we have to be on guard against this mentality.

In our work life, how often do we root for another to succeed?  Do we appreciate it when a team member creates a great partnership or do we try to belittle his or her accomplishment?  Do we try to help a new team member get up to speed as quickly as possible, or do we angle to impede his or her progress?  As managers, do we foster the collective success of our team or do we sabotage those team members who can possibly take our job?  Do we encourage free-thinking or do we take credit for a team member’s idea, just to keep them at the bottom of the pot?  The most dynamic work cultures encourage the success of the team by promoting and genuinely rooting for the individuals to succeed.  There is no tolerance for the crab mentality even it means letting one get out of the pot. 

Instead of forcing a successful member to stay, a positive work culture encourages growth and views a promotion (both internal and external) as the ultimate form of flattery.  That is how we build great cultures that build great communities.

In our personal life, the same principles apply.  Are we happy when someone buys a larger house or do we find a way to turn a positive into a negative? (“Do they really need that much space?”)  Are we happy when a friend finally finds a suitable partner or do we nitpick about the shortcomings of their new spouse?  Are we supportive when a member of our inner circle achieves financial freedom or do we question the legitimacy of their success? (“Yeah, they make a lot of money but that is such unfulfilling work”).  Belittling their success only serves as a roadblock to our own development and happiness. Instead of pulling them down to the bottom of the pot, be happy for their accomplishments.  Let it serve as motivation for your own future success.  Someone else has blazed a path to glory.  Now you know it is possible.  If they can do it, so can you.  If this spills over into our personal lives, it will only enhance our professional lives.

Instead of the “if I can’t have it, neither can you” philosophy, celebrate the “if I can’t have it, I’m glad someone I care about can” philosophy. That healthy and natural mindset will allow us to move forward with our own shortcomings and setbacks.  It will create a healthier, more vibrant team at work.  It will create a more loving environment in your personal life.  It will allow us to escape the boiling pot of negative thinking and move forward toward personal fulfillment.

Focus on your own journey to success and happiness.  When you get there, realize that others may still be suffering.  Reach back down and lend them a helping hand (or claw!).  Some will still try to pull you back down into the boiling pot.  Do not pay attention to them.  You will be too busy celebrating the accomplishments of others.  You will be too busy inspiring others to succeed.  You will be too busy leading the resilient and healthy lifestyle you were destined to live.

Rob Clark was a brain break presenter at the 2021 ICMA Southeast Regional Conference. He is a professional speaker and author focusing on the topic of resiliency in the workplace.  His latest book, “Everyday Resilience for Everyday Heroes” is available now on Amazon.  For more on resilience, visit Rob’s weekly blog, The Resilient Worker.


ICMA Blog


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