March 20

How Extraordinary Leaders Avoid Blowing Up

Disappointment is part of the human experience. Another person will disappoint you at some point in your life.  Some will miss expectations. My clients often lament that as they took on more leadership responsibility, the more they became disappointed.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t handle disappointment well.

When you miss expectations, it is not unusual to experience some form of ‘upset’. The experience is sometimes referred to as being triggered or highjacked.  Our brains work to protect us, and the emotional brain reacts instantaneously to threats (big disappointments).  The amygdala highjack is so swift and so strong that it is neurobiologically impossible to stop the mind/body experience of being triggered.

What do Extraordinary Leaders do when they become triggered?

First, they understand their negative emotions will minimize their effectiveness to compassionately challenge someone.  “Personal mastery” is based on self-awareness; knowing your confrontation preference (fight, flight, or freeze). An extraordinary leader understands this and chooses to react differently when they miss an expectation. They say to themselves; “this is normal” and they don’t let negative judgments expand negative energy.

Additionally, they own and manage their expectations.  When people miss their expectations, they start with an analysis of the expectation, not the person.  Was the expectation realistic for this person in this situation?  Did the person clearly understand this expectation?  What could I have done differently to set the person up for success? Do I need to modify the expectation?

Only after a thorough examination, does the extraordinary leader talk to the person.  Fighters know not to confront when they are at the peak of their negative emotions. Those people who tend to run from conflict (flighters), force themselves to talk about it because they know that not talking about it only makes the situation worse.

Extraordinary leaders know they have a responsibility to ‘help’ the other person.

They make the conversation productive by ensuring the tone is not like a performance appraisal (judgment).  Creating an open dialogue about the missed expectation and ways to meet it in the future are more productive than focusing on the past/why it happened.  I love using the words “next time” because it says we are going forward together.

However, it’s also important we decide what to do in the future if we do not meet expectations. It will be a lot easier to be compassionate if we have talked about how we will treat each other when the breakdown occurs. One reason we get so triggered when an expectation is missed is the surprise factor.

To be great at leading others we must first lead ourselves.  Extraordinary leaders have personal mastery.  Becoming emotionally triggered and yelling or going silent doesn’t work but knowing what else to do requires better choices.

I recommend reading: Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations and Bad Behavior by: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillian and Al Switzler.  The authors share their research and what they learned about the best ways to “have difficult conversations at work, and how to deal with broken promises, violated expectations and bad behavior”.


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