I wanted to write this as I learned this lesson not more than 8 hours ago. All day I was in my head, thinking of all the various tasks I had to do regarding a marketing project for Leader School, and rather than do a proper estimate and lay out a plan, I just stewed in it. This disorganized chaos started to build up in my head to the point where I couldn't concentrate on one specific task, and this in turn compounded my frustration. So basically now I was a walking tinder box, but being the guy I am, rather than deal with it, I tried to bottle it up and press on.
My fiancé came home from a long day and wanted to help me out on the project that was causing me so much angst. This should have obviously been a situation where I demonstrated much gratitude towards her as it was her initiative to help me out, and she was taking time out of her busy day to do so. But rather than think all this, I was gritting my teeth and getting defensive at every question and idea she had. Everything thing she said that wasn't completely inline with what I thought was met with interrogator like questioning through crossed arms. I was shields up and all torpedoes firing. So, obviously she figured out very quickly that I wasn't in the mood to be a team player, and the conversation ended abruptly. After 5...maybe 10 minutes of pouting, my senses came back to me and I realized I just expertly performed my best rendition of the Biggest A$$ H*le and thusly apologized. Luckily for me I have an amazing fiancé and my apology was accepted. However, this was only part of what I wanted to share. What really got me thinking was how many other times was I combative to other people's great inputs. I was able to think of 3 times in the last 3 months (not saying these were the only times, just they immediately came to mind). The commonality of all three times for me were: I was frustrated over the problem set; I was already stubbornly set in what I perceived was the right way - without any real analysis; and, I came into the conversation expecting them to try and poke holes in my solution - a.k.a I was insecure. This is a scenario I normally would try to mitigate or avoid by doing the exact opposite of the commonalities, however, I also get fired up from time to time, and as it is known, the higher the emotion the lower the logic. So, using some tactics in self awareness and hindsight, here are a few ways I found worked to check myself before I wrecked myself:
1) Understand that I'm frustrated. The sooner I figure out that I'm not in a good head space, it will immediately be easier to bring myself back to a better mind state. Sometimes it is hard to understand that you are frustrated or in a pissy mood. Usually I have a tightness in the back of my jaw or head. Others, I've heard, can sometimes feel it in the pit of their stomach. Whatever it is, a bit of self awareness and introspection will help determine the tells.
2) Before I begin to collaborate with my team, I let them know that I am feeling pretty short fused, and that I'm super sorry about it. This will do a few things: It will give the team some warning, in case I do become an a$$, and hopefully they don't take it personally; they will see that I'm not in a good spot, and may approach things with me in a more digestible way commensurate with my mental space- they aren't under anyobligation to do this BTW; and announcing it out loud better helps me catch myself if I see I'm going off the rails.
3) I use calming tactics that work for me to bring me back down to a good head space. Some times it is as simple as realizing that I actually do need help on the problem I'm trying to figure out. Or it could be something along the lines of breathing exercises or even a walk. If I need to calm down for in quick order for a limited time span, I try to quickly compartmentalize my frustration. But realize this is just a patch job and will need to be addressed later. Just figure out what works for you.
4) Check my frustration ego at the door. I found that as I got more frustrated with the problem set, my ego flared up and exacerbated my defensiveness. I was thinking that my way had to be the right way and everyone else didn't know what they were talking about. This was my frustration ego swelling - not sure if frustration ego is a real term, but it works here. Here is a secret to remember: your job as the leader has very little to do with how smart you are to solve problems by yourself, it has everything to do with being smart enough to leverage all the assets and resources you have to solve the problem. The biggest of those resources being your people, and the biggest assets, their intelligence and experience.
As much as we are emotional creatures, leaders cannot let their emotions be an excuse to treat people poorly. That is the burden of leadership. This is not just a lesson for your professional life, it also is ever present in your personal life. Think about the last time you snapped at your spouse or kids or friends over something that had nothing do with them but everything that had to do with your own mental frustration. I just want to put a disclaimer here, this is not advice for those suffering from mental illness, this is just the lesson I learned in dealing with my own day to day frustrations and how it effects the people on my team.
If this post resonated with you or you think that it may resonate with someone you know, please share or like it. If you have some other ways to be an effective leader despite being frustrated and short fused, please leave your advice in the comment section. If you have a d*ck of a boss that projects their frustrations on to you regularly, I dare you to share this with them.... them let me know what the aftermath is ;)
I'm starting a "Lessons In Leadership" series. These are real lessons I've learned starting out as a leader in the Canadian Armed Forces. As I reflect back, I think of all the mistakes and errors I've made, the way only time and experience can truly illustrate how naive I really was.The best part is, most of these lessons were actually taught to me in some briefing or lecture before I learned them the hard way. Well no better teacher than experience, right?
My first lesson is one I hold dear. When I first joined the forces, I had a vision of working in a group of awesome people, with me, their leader, just being one of team, and everyone liking me. So I went to work to make this happen. I did this through some very healthy ways: being friendly, having a good sense of humour, trying to make reasonable and practical decisions; put my team before myself... the classics. Buuuuuuut... then I also had some really unhealthy practices: going out partying and drinking with the team... KE$HA video styles... all the time. Just basically trying to be the biggest "bro" I could be. It was fun... really fun. But a few things happened over time:
1) My team did see me as a "bro," but not as their leader. This was fine when things were going well, but when we had to really push and the situation got sporty, the team didn't see me as the guy that could get them out of the pinch, they saw me as the fun loving party guy who is now putting them through hardship.
2) My superiors didn't see me as a leader, they saw me as a guy who loved partying with the troops (which I did). When I brought up legitimate issues to better the welfare of my guys, they didn't take my suggestions seriously, because they thought I was just pandering to my friends and not putting the mission first.
3) I got self-conscious about my actual leadership abilities because my plan to be liked wasn't working the way I was hoping, I was degrading a crucial piece, credibility. This made me less of the leader I wanted to be, and more of a leader developing a complex.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be liked by your team. It's all about how. Are you liked because you make the best call for the mission and the team, care about your people, and do everything you can to help them succeed... or are you liked because you buy the first round of shots and tell hilarious drinking stories? This may be a very obvious folly to many of you reading, but when I was 24, fresh out of university, and given my first troop of Combat Engineers to command, I totally lived the lesson, hard. I honestly thought I could successfully pull off both, with a bit more effort on the latter.
If you are in the same trap I was in, I want to let you know, it is recoverable. Ease off the gas, and work to highlight the good leadership qualities you do have. This doesn't mean don't let your hair down with the team when appropriate, it just has to be, well, appropriate. Over time, you will be seen less as the fun party person, and more of the trusted leader that your people could turn to for direction, guidance,and when things get tough, safety.
If you have a hard leadership lesson you have lived, please leave it in the comment section. If you have a question about a lesson you are currently learning, please, also ask it in the comment section, or DM me.