Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer
Life would be so easy if we never had to deal with any difficult situations. How many of us can say that we never have had a challenge in our work lives? If you can respond in the positive to this question, then you are either oblivious to the world around you or living in Nirvana. Over the years I have had many of these opportunities to flex my leadership muscles. I put it this way because until you have faced a daunting challenge I don’t think you can really judge your strength as a leader. Most of us in leadership positions do a pretty good job when things go as planned. But how we react and interact during difficult times is what really tempers our leadership skills.
I had an opportunity recently to observe one of our senior leaders reacting to a difficult situation. I believe what this leader said was they knew they were not treating some individuals very nicely, but that was just the way it was going to be due to the stress of a situation that was taking their focus away from the day-to-day to concentrate on resolving more pressing issues. I am usually never at a loss for words, but I was struck speechless when I heard that this leader thought it was okay to treat people poorly due to stress at work. Now the moment has passed and I am still looking for the right way to bring the topic back up so that I can do a bit of “upward mentoring.”
This incident got me thinking about how I behave when I am under a lot of stress. As you may know from my earlier posts, I am a self-avowed Tasmanian Devil when the doer in me kicks in, but how do I behave when there are challenges here at work? I love the quote by Schweitzer and think that it speaks volumes. If I keep this in mind when I feel the urge to “Tas out,” it restrains me. The most impact I can have on a daily basis is to set a good example for those I work with especially when under stress. As long as I remember the examples that I set by my actions become the behavior of those around me it keeps my inner Tas under control. I have only to envision an office full of Tasmanian Devils whirling around and the lowering of productivity with missed deadlines that results to restrain my doer Devil mode.
Now how do I approach the topic of setting a good example with the leader I mentioned above? Fortunately I am not the one being treated badly, but if I were it would almost make this crucial conversation easier. I know I need to pick the time and my approach carefully so that my comments will be heard and received. This is not the type of conversation I like to have over lunch, nor is it effective at the end of another difficult day. Perhaps I’ll take the donut approach and invite them for a Starbucks walk across the street? I find that walking improves the atmosphere for talking. Maybe I’ll share a “story” about one of my Tas experiences and how I handled it effectively? Or maybe I’ll just wimp out and see if they read this post? Whatever I choose to do I need to do it this week because the more time that passes the more difficult this conversation will be.
As you can see, a lot of thought and reflection has been going on this week. When I observe less than stellar leadership behavior, it does help me to become a better leader. It reinforces for me how it is much more difficult to be an effective leader under pressure. These times are the true test of leadership skills. All I have to do is see the reaction of others to this leader to know how I do not want to behave.
We are all a work in progress. Leadership in my mind is first setting a good example for those around us and second being a servant leader. Wish me luck with my crucial conversation. I welcome your thoughts on how I can approach this effectively.