" />

Community Association Publishing Services

tools & resources for creating community

Creating Community Blog

The Triangle of Disempowerment

Posted on April 17, 2013 at 9:55 PM

In my book, Creating Community: The Art of Empowerment in Community Association Living, I discuss the various roles we play in our lives and those roles we play within our community association. What often sabotages any real effort to be an effective community leader is falling into the trap of the Triangle of Disempowerment.


If we are a leader, we may act out our role as board member, committee member or even manager in a way that follows a specific storyline that we tell ourselves about our role. For example, you may have been summoned to a hearing about a noncompliance violation and felt the process to be unfair. That emotion led you to take a more active role within your community because you wanted to feel more connected with your neighbors and contribute to a sense of fairness and respect for everyone in the community. You ran for the Board of Directors and devoted considerable energy to make sure that systems were enacted to protect owners from what you perceived as indiscriminate enforcement of the governing documents. However, in time you realized that strict enforcement of the governing documents and rules & regulations was necessary in order to keep order in the community and protect the common assets of the association.


In this example (and there are many more parallel ones for different leadership roles), you began your involvement with a sense of victimization. The story you told your wounded self was that your situation was unfair. The next chapter of your story tells the story of your rescuer self and the attempts to avoid making other owners feel the same sense of victimization that you did and in uniting the community behind fairness and respect for all. Finally, the reality of your leadership responsibilities began to shape your story to reflect the enforcer self, the one who does indeed become the perpetrator, the bully, in the eyes of other owners as you become the very symbol that you rebelled against in the beginning of your leadership story.


When you live within the script of your story you create what is called a trauma bond with the community, the other people you relate to in your leadership role. It is a trauma bond because you connect with them from a place of victimization within your wounded self. In your story you are always acting out one of the roles above, always switching characters when the need demands it.


This kind of a leader very seldom makes any kind of significant progress in creating community unity because they expend so much energy acting out their dramas that they become blind to their original purpose: to help create community unity and promote fairness and respect. The shifting between the victim role, rescuer role and bully role reinforce your story and instead of recognizing the dynamics of this dysfunction you feel like you are wasting your time and are unappreciated (moving deeper into the victim role). Helping create community unity takes a backseat to trying (usually unsuccessfully) to feel better about yourself.


The key to healing yourself and begin to make progress in creating community unity is to recognize what is going on and stop defining yourself by what happened in the past as you lived out the victim, perpetrator & bully roles. You don't have to devote your leadership energy to nobly rescuing the other residents and then being hurt and lashing out at them because you've shifted into the bully role and summon them to board hearings for non-compliance violations. It's great to help others, but not when we are stuck doing it in order to fix the wounded part of yourself: the victim role that initially motivated you to begin your involvement.


Here are some tips to ask yourself whenever you feel like your leadership role is getting the better of you:


1. Try to recognize when and why you are acting out any of the three roles.

2. Let go of those stories and begin to let go of judgment towards other owners, past leaders and even yourself. This is indeed the most difficult step and requires the ability to look objectively at your role and recognize the dysfunction associated with the story you have kept telling yourself about your leadership role.

3. Make a leadership plan that reinforces your original purpose for becoming a community leader that does not embrace any of those three roles.

4. Communicate openly with and solicit feedback from community residents and other community leaders. The best leaders are the ones whose actions reflect the real needs of the community. Communication is the only way to find out what those needs are.

Michael Pierson is CEO/President of Community Association Publishing Services (CAPS). He is the author of “Taking Control: Time Management and Communication Tools for Community Association Management" and "Creating Community: The Art of Empowerment in Community Association Living."