RARE Leadership, part 4 - Act Like Yourself
Have you ever had this thought as you’re preparing for your management team meeting: “I sure hope that so-and-so doesn’t blow up today”? A lot of executive teams have them – one person (sometimes more) that just isn’t trusted by others on the team. Their behavior is unpredictable and people are constantly wondering which version of this leader they’re going to see today. This type of behavior undermines the purpose of a team: enjoying working together to accomplish what matters.
Jason’s outburst (See Part 2 – Becoming Overwhelmed) is one example of how a leader’s unpredictable behavior can erode – even destroy – the potential success of a team. Jason is typically a warm, compassionate person who often expresses his gratitude and respect for others. Yet, when he went on a tirade about the Rocks his team was signing up for, the other people in the room shut down. They simply felt like disengaging and walking out. If you have felt this same way during any conversation or meeting you’ve experienced someone else’s immature response to hardship. Jason’s relational circuits (See Part 3 – Relational Circuits) shut down.
Jason is not unique. We all have had immature responses. We all have gaps in our relational responses, generally because we learn our responses to hardships from other, imperfect humans. We are all human and we all experience hardships. There are events, circumstances or people that cause us to feel alone, inadequate, disconnected, overwhelmed, or confused. Your response to the hardship in your life determines the effectiveness of your leadership.
When your response to a hardship is perceived as an attack – whether or not directed at them – the other person(s) will respond defensively. However, when you act like yourself even while experiencing hardship, others stay with you. They feel safe and recognize the steadfastness of your character and want to remain with you. To them, you’re not a predator but a protector.
In Jason’s case, the others on his team perceived him as a predator. Their defensive (self-protection) response was to disengage and walk out – flight. The incident would’ve gone unaddressed. If you’re the boss, this will nearly always be your employee’s response. Since you’re in charge, others will fear losing their job and will capitulate, sit in silence, and likely never mention how immature your response is.
Acting like yourself in these moments begins with you recognizing that it is happening – you’re being triggered. Likely, no one else is going to tell you, so you must become aware of your own behavior and the negative effect you are having on those around you. Be sensitive to how you physically feel. Do you feel your heart rate pick up? Is your jaw tightening? Maybe you feel the blood rushing into your face. Are you scowling? At that moment ask yourself, “Are my Relational Circuits going off? Am I being triggered? Why am I feeling like this?”
If you notice your are feeling less like yourself and unable to get your Relational Circuits back on, you might look to someone who is emotionally mature and handles hardships well. How do you recognize this person? Mature people stay calm and relational regardless of intense emotions. They’re the people who are glad to be with you, and you are glad to be with them, despite the circumstances. (See: Leadership vs Management) A mature person has probably helped you through hardships in the past. Keep in mind, the person who is emotionally detached is not who we’re seeking. We’re seeking the person who recognizes the hardship, is able to experience their negative emotions (fear, overwhelm, etc.) and remain calm and true to themselves despite these feelings. This emotionally mature person is modeling how it is like for you to act. Being with them and having them share their experiences with you and modeling what acting like yourself looks like, you start to pick up and learn from them. (Search for “mirror neurons” to learn more.)
Finally, to stay relational and act like yourself during hard emotions, build joy. It is hard for managers to find joy because they are typically already stressed out and running on fumes. Building joy starts with being glad to be with someone. That someone builds your joy – and you build theirs. As your capacity for joy grows, your ability to endure the hardships maturely grows.
Ask yourself, “Who do you truly enjoy?” Is there someone who knows you deeply well and you share life’s experiences with – whether through story or physical activity? And, do you find yourself glad to be with them – not because of the activity, but because of the gladness you feel just being together?
I have a few guy friends that I truly enjoy being with. We’ll go to breakfast, lunch, have a call, or share a beer and talk about what’s going on in life. These guys know me nearly as well as my wife. Although hiking, rafting, and golfing have all been included on occasion, we don’t have to be doing anything in particular to enjoy one another. These are my “Identity Partners.” They help me learn, know, and reinforce how it is like for me to act – and I do the same for them.
Mature leaders produce and maintain full engagement from their group in what matters. In order to do this they must create an atmosphere where others experience joy. When working in joy people will have their greatest impact. We’ll dive deeper into Returning to Joy in part 5.
I have to give credit for most of my insight to my friend and mentor Barbara Moon, who patiently invests in me weekly (using her book, Joy-filled Relationships) and ad-hoc Q&A with me via text messages, and from the book, Rare Leadership, by Drs. Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder.
 Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder, Rare Leadership – 4 Uncommon Habits for increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2016) 20