“Snakes! They’re all snakes!”. Your colleague Lin, responsible for your company’s task force for agile next generation entity resources (a.n.g.e.r.) is enraged*: “Whatever I propose to the business heads, they bad-mouth it behind my back. And they spread rumors about how I’m planning to sack everybody older than 33. I need your help!”. You feel a flash of resentment. Lin’s initiative is very important to help change your company’s culture towards new ways of working. If it fails, your strategy of portfolio transformation will fail, too.
You suddenly feel 35 again, gripped by the anxiety of being passed over as top management chooses the members for the company’s youth advisory board, a dead sure springboard for future top management positions. And within the same moment, you’re back to being 14, waiting to be asked for the last waltz of the evening by your dancing partner – who walks past you and asks your 13-year-old friend: “Do you dance?”.
Red hot fury floods your mind. “Stop bothering me with your failures!”, you shout at Lin.
Like all of us, leaders are human beings. As human beings, like all of us, they bring to work their share of emotional triggers, acquired over the course of a lifetime – some dating back all the way to youth or early childhood. Like all of us, when circumstances conspire, leaders fall prey to such triggers and get carried away by whatever emotional memories hold them in their fangs. This clouds sound judgment, because – as Jane Austen said in “Pride and Prejudice” – angry people are not always wise. The same also holds true for people in the grips of other emotions.
Fortunately, in many cases, what triggered a certain reaction in the past is no longer a relevant cause for getting swept up in the same emotional turmoil in the present. Your 14-year-old self got angry when it was ignored by your dancing partner who preferred your younger friend – okay. Your 35-year-old self worried about being left out of the prestigious youth advisory board – okay. But: Your current self is neither of these past selves – and therefore has no business getting angry at Lin presenting the business heads’ habit of spreading rumors about age-related layoff plans contrived by a.n.g.e.r.
As a leader, the better you get at recognizing each impulse the moment it triggers your emotions, the better you get at consciously choosing which moods to bring to work situations – and which to let go of.
You look at Lin. “Do you dance?”, you ask. Lin gives you a confused look. “Jane Austen”, you say. “Never mind. But she also wrote: ‘To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love’. Let’s think about what dance we can engage those business heads in so they fall in love with what you’re planning to do”.
* This is the second of a series of blog posts exploring some uniquely motivating mindfully elaborated ramblings (s.u.m.m.e.r.) of mine, written during my summer vacation in 2019, investigating topics and trends relevant for leaders in today’s multilayered world. All persons, situations, and dialogues quoted are purely fictional, albeit informed by what I see happening in companies I work with. If you want to know what I do when I work, read more here and here [retrieved July 9, 2019].