Any leader of a team would likely admit to moments when firing the whole team was a real consideration. Let’s face it, leading people can be stressful. Add to the load of a boss position, a few projects with problems and a minor crisis or two, and you’ve got a leader ready to explode if further provoked. If this has been you, think it through. The relief of your explosion, blowing off stressful, built-up emotions, may not be worth the damage you’ll do in the process. Yet, those who rise to roles in leadership or lead their own business are also often highly-driven people. They have a thirst for results and action. They love a challenge. But, push them too far or stand in their way too often, and reactions can be overbearing, even aggressive. Eventually, the blood pressure subsides and the leader moves on to the next issue. They often expect everyone else to have the same rapid recovery from what just happened.
If only it were that easy. Explosive or aggressive communication, stress-induced or not, valid or not, well-intended or not, and even temporary or accidental, or not, can do some serious damage. A team led by a leader who consistently yells or loses it, loses trust in his or her leadership. Team members may stop listening or disregard other messages. They may build resentment. Even worse, good team members may quit. If your day-to-day leadership includes a screaming match, or if you’re seeing more stunned looks than motivated action from those you have the privilege of leading, it may be time to fix how you’re managing your stressed behavior. It may be time to address your comfort level with this type of communication. Let’s look deeper into what happens when this is the way you deliver your thoughts to others.
You Corrode Trust
Consider “trust” your most vital pipeline for communication. If the team trusts you, they’ll spend less time questioning your direction. If the team knows you know what you’re doing, they’ll come to you for help on a minor problem, before it becomes a big one. Less trust, more time spent on figuring it out for themselves, using trial and error to find a solution. Less trust, more questions. But what corrodes that pipeline of trust? All the questions, concerns and worry that come about with a leader who is unapproachable, seemingly always angry, or who yells instead of teaching or sharing information. No amount of new equipment, fancy tech gadgets, or case studies will resolve trust issues. Trust is personal. Trust begins with one person to another and tends to spread quickly. Explode at the person who talks with every other team member and you’ll find out just how fast word spreads of your questionable credibility. Trust from talkers or even those who may even be less driven, who prefer to follow and take direction, takes a hit quick. Explosive communication extinguishes the spark of hope they had that you can be trusted as their leader. And once trust is at risk, motivation, loyalty, and initiative are next.
You Break Down Communication
Even in a virtual reality, it’s not hard to see a breakdown in communication in a team. It may have begun with a lack of trust, but it then shows up in how they treat each other. “He said/she said” instances occur more frequently. Quieter team members stop asking questions for fear of the reactions. They do what they think is best for that particular job and it turns out to be less efficient, more costly, and less satisfying to the customer. And while these reactions are not always all the fault of the leader, a leader who fails to mitigate his or her moments of losing their temper creates these breakdowns far faster. Leaders with exploding eruptions of emotions stop the spark of interest from team members. Curiosity goes away. Initiative and willingness to take a risk leaves the scene. All those positive types of communication you wish would happen so you don’t have to micromanage every team member get extinguished unless these overly excessive reactions are managed differently.
You Foster Resentment
Combine a lack of trust with a failure to communicate and you’ll have much more than a single problem to deal with. Explosive reactions from leaders also foster resentment. Resentment builds anger, creates silos, and can lead to actions that look alarmingly like sabotage. Not only are these actions dangerous for employees, bad for business, and show-stoppers for the speed and timeliness of a project, they also are frequent culprits to blame for excessive sick days, call outs, and sudden resignations. These are symptoms of a team in trouble and the presence of these elements can be traced back to the boss being the main issue. But it takes two, or even a few, to continue this type of problem in a workplace environment. And, thankfully, resentment can be extinguished just like their spark if you’re willing to make some minor adjustments.
Underground work and safe excavation is often about precision. A large turn of a dial or sweeping increase in a setting may be too much. Small increments are best. The same is true of leadership communication. Make small changes, along with a few realizations. Good leader or not, employees are ultimately responsible for their own behavior. Yes, a boss with a big temper who often loses it can provide the trigger for a loss of trust, failure in communication, and a buildup of resentment. It could also be argued that team members who perform half-hearted work, always show up late, and don’t follow through on their commitments are the very cause of those boss blow ups. The real question is: are you, the leader, lighting their fire and keeping their motivation lit or are you the one extinguishing any remaining spark of interest in performing to their fullest? If you prefer the first set of attributes, start by controlling your stress. Watch what you really expect. Don’t let every little thing ignite your irritation and start looking to what you’re really after. Do you want a team who falls short on occasion, but has real potential to meet your expectations? Then tell them what those expectations are and stop believing everyone or everything will eventually be perfect. Work with them and their capabilities instead of constantly expecting them to be something you keep saying they aren’t. You’ll have your days. Some days you’ll find that sweet spot, like the first time you found that cable. Other days, you’ll spend the morning digging for answers and wondering what the heck happened. Adjust your own actions to allow for taking stress in stride, as if it were just part of the process. Keep your explosive reactions to a minimum and keep your focus on building a team who performs above the minimum. You want to fan the flame that keeps their interest warm and toasty, not burn down the whole building.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist. Her firm, Contagious Companies, trains managers on how to become better leaders, even if they were only promoted and not prepared. To learn more, or find her latest book, Contagious Leadership: 15th Anniversary Edition, go to www.ContagiousCompanies.com or dial 1-866-382-0121.