When Leaders Lose It
It was one of those moments that you wanted to take back right after it happened.
I was discussing some equipment concerns with Sid, our facilities director. We had ten expensive transport units that were purchased a few months prior to my coming on board, and they were breaking down quickly. We had no success in getting the manufacturer to stand behind their product, and now we were desperately looking for internal solutions.
What went from a frustrating problem for both parties turned into a heated argument with each of us justifying our position. In a split moment, I pointed my finger at Sid and raised my voice harshly. With that, he turned and walked away back to his office.
I was left standing with the realization that I had just lost it. We had done everything to turn around a lackluster department and we were becoming a rising star and setting an example for others to follow. Now I had just undermined everything that we had worked hard to build up. And if that wasn't bad enough, I had done so in front of my staff and leadership team.
There is one fact that all of us as leaders have in common - none of us are perfect. With the best intentions, our passions and emotions can turn even the most careful actions into times where we lose our demeanor and our credibility. We're only human, and we can easily explain it away in those terms.
But there is another fact that is even more encouraging than the first one - we all have the ability to remedy our transgressions and rebuild what we've lost. It takes awareness, humiltiy, and, of course, an amount of effort, but if handled in the right manner you can redeem yourself and pick up your influence where you left off. Here's what I did in my situation.
First, I came to terms with myself. I could have walked away and hid for the remainder of the day. This was a critical juncture for me. Fortunately, Sid and I not attack each other, just the problem. I decided not to let this derail all the efforts we spent to make some positive impacts, and that I had to make things right with everyone immediately. So as soon as I recognized and resolved what to do, I acted.
Second, I apologized to my staff right then and there. I explained how bad I felt for what just happened, and that I strive to act more professionally at all times in order to set a good example. A few of them said "That's all right, it happens" and were pretty forgiving. I believe this step helped them see how human I was, and that it made me more of a real person in some ways to them.
Third, I went straight to the other party to apologize. I knocked on Sid's door and asked if I could speak with him. I apologized for my outburst and let him know that was not how I prefer to conduct myself. Sid looked up at me, puzzled at why I was apologizing. "Why, that's what I expect of someone in your position. You're the department head and you should be able to speak your mind." "But not in that way," I replied. I explained what my goal for myself had been since I started, and that I didn't want my actions to tarnish an otherwise good working relationship with him. He waved his hand and said "Hey, it's no problem, it happens." (Think I heard that somewhere before). After a few minutes, I left and had a sense of peace that things were going to be just fine.
During those moments that we fail ourselves and the people who rely on us, we must make restitution and rebuild trust and relationships. It must be genuine, and done with a spirit to repair what was torn down.
Do you feel all is lost when those situations occur? The worst that can happen is to do nothing and ignore it. Go to the issue, no matter how painful it may be. Only then can everyone start to move forward as a team.
I was at that organization for 4 years and left 2 years ago. Last month at my step-son's basketball game, I ran into Sid and his wife whom I haven't seen in that time. They were so excited to see me, and told me how much they and many others missed having me there. They expressed their disappointment and confided in how things are running since I left, but they are happy for the choices I've made. I encouraged them to hang in there as Sid is closing in on retirement very soon. Our conversation was as if our altercation never happened. This never would have been the case if I didn't break down those walls I put up 6 years ago.
(Photo credit: Courtesy of therisingmuse.com)