During the height of Covid in 2020, I began keeping a log of how I was reacting to the Coronavirus situation. One of the things I’ve found was that trying harder wasn’t always the way to go. But was often my go-to.
For example, I’ve got four kids and my 3rd is a very passionate boy. Hypothetically let’s say he’s getting frustrated about a toy. And I respond to him with increased effort—which comes out as more forceful words.
Not going to work.
It’s just going to feed into the mess. He’s going to get frustrated at my tone and I’m going to get frustrated at what I perceive as disrespect. Then it’s going to escalate because we’ve both been sucked into each other’s impassioned state. Round and round we go.
The disconnect comes more from having an increased response to the situation.
Wait, what are you talking about?
(Back to the example of my kid and the toy.)
I might need to him explain why his brother has a different toy or he might just need to be removed from the situation for a minute. Me getting wrapped into his emotional state is NO BUENO.
When I think about recent failures on the home front or at work, they weren’t a result of a lack of effort. I was trying really hard. And when you don’t succeed, try harder. Right?
Edwin Friedman wrote a masterpiece on leadership called, “A Failure of Nerve”.
On p. 39 he says “The treadmill of trying harder is driven by the assumption that failure is due to the fact that one did not try hard enough.”
There's a chain reaction that takes place and Mr. Friedman lays it out beautifully.
Think of a horrible situation, whatever scenario that you would deem chaotic or traumatic. Car accident, cancer diagnosis, embezzlement, Covid hitting...etc.
1. People react to it, some out of pure emotion others by observing/clicking/absorbing.
2. Soon after there’s herding that begins.
· Toilet paper is gone for example—"I’m not sure why but I need to get as much as possible”
· Fear is feeding action
3. Next is blame displacement, one analogy given in the book is of a pile of sand. Eventually, one more grain will cause it all to fall. Blaming the single grain for the avalanche isn’t accurate; the issue was building long before the last grain. The grain did expose an issue and trigger a lot of other issues but isn’t solely responsible for the effect.
4. Number 4 is what I find most attractive in this whole cycle—let’s fix it and move on. (I’ve got goals to hit!) In this phase of the cycle, we aren’t looking to deal with the root issues but a pill or technique. Avoiding the messy issues ultimately devalues the integrity of the leader.
· The arbitrary goals may be hit but the issues still remain
5. The 4 previously mentioned stages all come together to produce the 5th stage in a person who is tossed to-and-fro based on the circumstances around them.
"It’s not the well-thought-out things of criminal masterminds that will derail us. It’ll be the human things that anxious people do." (Tod Bolsinger, episode 52)
We need to be aware that people are people. And some people freak out when stressful times come. That’s true.
When it feels like someone is trying to sabotage everything you’re doing, it very well could be an anxious person being human. It’s NOT an excuse for bad behavior but knowing this takes the feeling of it being personal out of the equation.
Here’s a short list I made to help us all more quickly recognize how we’re responding and hopefully make corrections.
• Snap reactions to immediate circumstances 👉 cutting comments that damage relationships
• Polarizing stances (black & white thinking) 👉 a “with us or against us” mentality
• Questions and no answers 👉 constant what-if scenarios and lack of decisive action
• Extreme micro-management 👉 loss of trust
Close us out Mr. Friedman:
“...someone who is less likely to become lost in anxious emotional processes swirling about.”
“...someone who can be separate while still remaining connected and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence.”
“...someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.”
Your people need a calm and steady leader to fix their eyes on.
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