I recently wrote about the importance of making intentional choices every day that helps us be our best selves. But the reality is that as hard as we try, sometimes, ok maybe more than sometimes, the stress and pressure gets to us. And when that happens, we react badly, and for a moment, even if it’s a brief one, we become the leader from hell.
Some leaders are even-tempered with good listening skills on most days. Under severe stress, however, they can transform into someone with a very short fuse who refuses to listen and assigns blame when things go wrong. These are the moments that your team and colleagues will remember. It is these moments when you’re unable to manage your response to stress that can define your leadership if you’re not careful.
You may have the best of intentions and as much as you’d like to believe that you’re not ‘that’ kind of leader, you know deep down that I’m talking about you too.
When under pressure, we give in to our emotions, and even our strengths can play against us. Our ability to make swift decisions turns instead into impatience when we have things piling up all screaming urgent and important. Attention to detail becomes an excuse for micro managing your team to the edge of insanity on that tight-deadline, high-stakes project.
The key to any change always starts with self-awareness. You may have read a dozen leadership books and attended every leadership course known to mankind, but unless you have good self-awareness, you cannot begin to make meaningful change.
Know your triggers. Then ask yourself what you can control to minimise your triggers. And for stuff you can’t control, like for instance, ‘that person’ who always brings out the worse in you, find ways to reframe that relationship for it to at least be workable.
Take a breath. A deep, long one if needed, and shut up. It’s a virtual certainty that whatever you’re tempted to say at that very moment is the wrong thing. Walk away if you need to and come back when you’re calmer.
Rein it in. When we’re under pressure, even the smallest things can be triggers. Learn to tune things out. Calling a time-out is also a better approach to help you cope with the pressure at that moment as opposed to pushing through.
Apologise. If you’ve been an ass, own it and apologise. We’re all human, and we make mistakes. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you’re allowed a free pass on bad behaviour. Be accountable for your own behaviour. Your team will respect you more for it.
Some things are a given. The pressure is not going to let up. In fact, it’s going to get worse as you take on more senior roles and as complexity and change continue to increase.
Your response to stress plays a huge role in how others perceive you as a leader. And whether you like it or not, you do have both the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personalities in you. So start acknowledging this so that you can begin to manage your unproductive leadership behaviours.