The Most Successful Leaders Tune Into This

What Voice? I Don’t Hear a Voice?

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When I’m delivering keynote presentations, it’s fun to watch the faces of the doubters. I’ll say something about their “inner voice” and they shrug their shoulders. Then I say, "For those of you who are shrugging your shoulders and saying 'I don’t have an internal voice', that is the voice I’m talking about." It’s always there. It is always talking. It is a commentary that’s always running. In fact, there are several voices. If you still don’t believe, think about this morning when your alarm went off. One voice said, “It’s time to get up, we’ve got a lot to do today!” The other voice replied, “I don’t think I can overcome the gravity right at the moment so I will have to stay here for just a while longer hoping the gravity shifts and I’m able to escape.” In his book, “The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction”, Adam McHugh says the voices can be like a classroom of seventh graders. “You have one kid looking out the window, you have one raising her hand to answer every question, one thinking about sex, one who is counting down to lunch, one who cheats on tests, one who is acting out for attention, and another who bullies all the rest.” 1 This phenomenon of internal voices is not abnormal; it’s universal. 

However, most people are unaware. Perhaps it is because the voices are always there that we are so easily able to tune them out and become numb. The consequence of this unawareness is enormous. The field of cognitive behavior therapy addresses this directly when they ask people after they’ve had a challenging situation, “What did you make it mean?” In other words, “What did you tell yourself?” McHugh suggests that we name the voices to tame them. He lists several of the names he uses: the parent, the therapist, the defendant, the critic, the lawyer, the doomsayer, the balcony guys, the junior higher, the bully. While I’ve found McHugh’s work to be exceptionally valuable, I lump the voices into the four mindsets I’ve previously described: the Victim, the Bystander, the Controller and the Thriver. 

The Voices of the Four Mindsets

The Victim’s Voice

As the “powerless taker”, the Victim’s voice focuses inwardly with a sense of entitlement. For me, the running loop sounds something like this: “I don’t deserve this. I didn’t sign up for this. When is someone going to help me? This sucks. Well, you can’t expect me to do anything about it. It’s not my fault. They owe it to me. I deserve more than this. Nobody is taking care of me. I’m not getting my needs met. This isn’t fair.”

The Bystander’s Voice

As the “powerless giver”, the Bystander’s voice expresses compassion but impotence. It sounds something like: “Someone should do something! Those poor people. I feel so bad for those people. What could I do? I don’t have the power to do anything. I wish I could make a difference. I wish there was something that I could do.”

The Controller’s Voice

The Controller is the “powerful taker” who boldly says: “Someone has to look out for ‘number one’. I have the power to break you. You WILL do what I say. I’m in charge. You work for me! I’ll teach them a lesson. I don’t want to lose control. I don’t want to lose power. I don’t want to lose influence.”

The Thriver’s Voice

The Thriver is the “powerful giver” who says: “I have the power to make a difference. I choose to serve others. I don’t care who gets the credit. It’s not about me.”

Why Voice Matters

Only the voice of the Thriver represents a fulfilling mindset. The other three will leave you feeling empty and isolated. Because we go in the direction that we look (target fixation), the voice that we allow to loop over and over will impact how the world occurs to us, what we say, and what we do. If you continue to entertain them long enough they can lead to burnout. If you want to live a more fulfilled life, choose to listen to the Thriver’s voice.

Learning to recognize the voices is the prerequisite to choice. It is nearly impossible to change the voice until you take the time to listen. When you hear one of the unfulfilling voices, remember that mindset always comes down to two choices:

  • Will I choose to see myself as powerless or powerful?
  • Will I choose to live my life as a giver or a taker?

How we answer those questions will impact the internal dialogue we hear, the emotions we experience, the actions we take, and ultimately, the fruit we produce. 

Did you hear that? What did you say? 


  1. McHugh, A.S., The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, IVP Books (December 9, 2015), pg 175. ↩︎

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