Triggers and the Contagion of Leadership

You know that co-worker that you have… the one that just keeps getting under your skin? No matter what he (or she) says or does, it’s the wrong thing? Even when you try to get along, he’ll say something stupid that will just set you back further? Wouldn’t life just be easier if he would just go away?

Truth be known: he irks you because you let him… and it may be more about you than you think or choose to admit. When we are triggered by someone, or something, we get thrown into a response that can sometimes be out of proportion to the situation.  This amplification is a cue that it’s less about the other person and more about, well… you.

As a leader, when you are triggered, frustrated, annoyed, or irritated that energy is both observable and contagious. Your team performance suffers, as does your reputation. Boyatzis and McKee talk about this contagion of leadership in Resonant Leadership. On the flip side, when you are curious, confident, compassionate and accountable, so too is your team. What team would you rather lead?

This week I invite you to join in my experiment. When you get triggered by someone, stop and ask: “What’s my part in this.” Get serious and real with yourself. Try these tactics:

  1. Change your lens. You see the world through your filters. Values, beliefs, family history, past experiences: these all shape your perception of people and situations. You can’t change another, you can only change yourself, so try on a new pair of glasses to see the world through.
  2. Own your part. If someone gets under your skin, look in the mirror. You might just be casting your shadow where it doesn’t belong.
  3. Get curious. What’s going on for the other person? Would your response be different if you came at it from a learner mindset?

e-musings confession: I’ll tell you what gets my irk on… ego. Pure. Arrogant. Ignorant. Better-than. Ego… That grandiose sense-of-self is in direct conflict with my value around learning. And if I get really, deep-down honest with myself I’m triggered because I, too, can be egotistical. I inadvertently make other people feel small when I show up with blinders on. So, to make life easier (on me!) I prefer casting that shadow onto someone else rather than own it myself. Please tell me I’m not alone!

We get triggered all the time. It’s how we respond to those triggers that determines our character. Notice, reflect and then choose your response. I know it’s something I’ll be working on… forever.

 

Stop the Circumstantial Drift: Lead with Purpose

Many leaders float through life, coming and going with the tides of circumstance. Time gets away on them, and soon they realize they aren’t in a role that inspires them, and their career has been based on logical and comfortable progression rather than intentional drive and passion. These leaders lead from a place of unconsciousness; having a wishy-washy impact on results and on the people they’re leading. This is leading without purpose.

Sometimes financial need dictates our direction. Other times convenience stands in our way. And more often than not… even when we choose to plead ignorance… we get in our own way of really, truly declaring and going after our dreams.

It takes courage to take a stand for what you want, and sometimes it’s just easier to ride the current rather than dig in and paddle. I know. I’ve been there, and will probably be there again… and again.

So rather than fall prey to circumstantial drift, how about giving yourself some good anchoring? Sit back, take a time-out-of-time and reflect on these questions:

  • What gets you excited in life and in work?
  • What untapped potential have you been shying away from?
  • As a leader, what do you want people to be saying about your character 5 years from now, 10 years from now?
  • What’s keeping you where you are?
  • What risks are you willing to take to get what you want and be even happier than you are now?
  • What first step are you willing to take tomorrow to move you closer to your dreams?

A vision is an anchor point. A place from which directed action occurs. It’s an internal compass – helping to guide decisions and ideas. It gives purpose and meaning to our work and leadership.

My litmus test for a vision (personal or corporate) is whether or not you can answer positively to these three questions (The 3 Cs):

  • Is it clear? Can you say, without a doubt, where you’re heading?
  • Is it concise? Can you remember it? Does it make sense?
  • Is it compelling? Does it guide your decisions and actions? Does it “grab” you and inspire you?

While these questions may seem a tad fluff, I can tell you that the clearer you are in the difference you want to make the more likely you are to make it. And from a leadership perspective, when you lead with intention, courage and clarity, people are more likely to want to be around you.

Bring some discipline of thought and passion to your own leadership. I dare you to lead with purpose… You may be surprised at what you come up with.

Stress Response-Ability: Beyond Fight-or-Flight

About eight years ago my life went through a bit of an upheaval. I was in the middle of a demanding Masters program, I was working in a job that really wasn’t fulfilling, I was in a relationship that had an uncertain future, and I was in that “phase” of life where I was questioning everything.

My stress was high and my resilience was low. Let me tell you, it was not a winning combo.  Despite my type-A, success-at-all-cost mentality, my body shut down. Stress was oozing from any available outlet. Meanwhile, my b*tch-of-an-inner-critic was saying: “get it together,” “you’re stronger than this,” “successful people don’t break down!” (Doesn’t she just say all the right things?)

With so many changes (real and potential) going on, my mental and emotional capacity was tapped out. I was at my max. And, what I’ve realized is that I’m not alone. Stress isn’t something we casually talk about… especially as a leader. It has a stigma, and can be seen as a sign of weakness or vulnerability. Though I can tell you, I’m stronger now for having lived through and experienced that low point.

The truth is, stress is real and it’s everywhere – at work, at home, between work and home… With our current world, some say we might even have a stress epidemic on our hands: leaving people with an out-of-control feeling more often than not. But what we do have influence and control over is growing our capacity and resilience to deal with it.

Physiologically, we are wired to respond to threats with our automatic stress reaction of “fight, flight or freeze” – a response that is very useful in predator-prey situation, not so useful in a corporate office.

In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world-renowned expert and teacher on mindfulness-based stress reduction, says that rather than falling victim to our stress reaction, we can develop adaptive strategies for coping: “you do not have to go the route of fight-or-flight reaction nor the route of helplessness every time you are stressed. You can actually choose not to.” Simply by bringing in mindfulness, or moment-to-moment awareness to what happens to us when we are stressed we reduce the strong-hold that our stress reaction can have on us.

When we’re in the grip of stress, we’re not at our best. And as a leader, when you’re not at your best, your team can suffer.

So what can you do? Start with simply noticing.

  • What is it that triggers a stress reaction in you?
  • What is your “typical” full-out stress reaction?
  • Can you pay attention to the subtle cues that are the start of the downward spiral of stress?
  • What can you do to re-calibrate and re-energize?

When I get that antsy, anxious flutter in my tummy, I know it’s time to hit the woods on my bike and get grounded. It fills up my tank emotionally, physically and mentally, and gives me the re-fresh I need to face the challenges that are part of life and leadership.

What are your stories around stress? What’s your re-fresh routine? Do you have one?