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 ;)