It’s 6.30 AM on a Monday morning and the alarm rings. The piercingly high tone startles you and when you finally come to your senses, you realise it’s the first day of another long, bitter work week.
As you slowly fall out of bed, climb into the shower and then scoff down your ‘breakfast of champions’, that feeling of dread rips another deep hole in your guts.
On your commute to work, the outlook is gloomy (and that’s not just the weather). A quick flick through your phone on the train reveals four work emails from your manager each sounding more passive-aggressive than the last.
“...needing your input on this ASAP. It should have been actioned last week. Not sure why you didn’t? This is not a good look with the CEO waiting on an update. We need to talk about it. See me in my office first thing”.
Scrolling through the blame-game emails you realise it was never ‘actioned’ because it didn’t hit your mailbox until late Friday night. But as you know from previous experience, your manager will try to convince you it’s still your fault.
The meeting with your manager reads like a predictable screenplay:
Manager: Really disappointing. You’ve let the team down and this is not the first time I’ve had to speak to you about these things.
You: The email came through at 9.35 PM on Friday. I can’t be expected to work 24/7.
Manager: Our corporation values teamwork, so maybe you should think about whether you want to be part of my team. Others have mentioned that you’re disengaged. Our company ethos is ‘better together’ and I expect that, no matter the time or day…
Heading back to your desk you can already sense from the stares that your manager has been gossiping to other staff about your plight.
I’m willing to bet you’ve been in a situation similar to this before? Unfortunately, they are all too common.
But while you might put this down to simply just the way a business runs (chance are you’ve been fashioned to believe this), this type of ‘culture’ is dire. According to evidence used by Turbine, negativity costs businesses as much as $36,000 per employee.
If negativity creeps into a business, soon morale will dip, staff will become disenfranchised and toxicity will start to fester.
It’s at this point leaders, managers and frontline staff lose control, stop being productive and start to react to situations instead of having a planned, coordinated approach.
Think about any situation, whether in business or life and you can almost guarantee that being reactive to it is never positive.
While some things, like the outbreak of a pandemic, will require a level of reaction, constantly reacting to events, circumstances and/or people will eventually spell disaster.
“Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance. Proactive people carry their own weather with them.” - Stephen Covey, Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
In business, you’re always going to deal with things that don’t go your way but there’s a difference between managing them with confidence and running around like a headless chook.
If, as a leader, you take a reactionary approach it’s going to have a flow-on effect to your staff. It can manifest in several ways like anxieties, personal problems, emotional instability and work stress. Right there, you have four major reasons for staff being less productive but it goes beyond that.
The effects of always reacting negatively in your workplace (especially in front of others) and allowing your emotions to get the better of you are wide-ranging:
So, it makes sense that you need to function correctly to avoid you and your team ruining the course of your day, month, year (or even small business) by responding to situations and stifling productivity.
No doubt the situation mentioned early was a major catalyst for you to set out on your own and start your small business. But with that, you stepped into a leadership role and have been learning how to do it on the fly ever since.
As a (new) leader, you need to reduce the time spent reacting to situations and boost business-wide productivity for a healthy, and prosperous future.
Here are five things you need to do:
If you want to productively respond to a topic (re: situation, circumstance, event etc) you need to know about it from the inside out. That requires you to gather all of the available resources, analyse what you’ve found to make informed choices.
If you’re dealing with negativity in the workplace, start by asking the team members affected questions:
It’s obvious, but to respond correctly or the way your staff feel you need to, you have to have all the evidence to do so. And make sure you repeat their concerns back to them so they know you’ve listened and understood.
Being told something is wrong and then madly dashing around trying to find a fix is an example of being reactive. Once you respond to the topic by identifying everything it involves, you need to let it sink in.
Remember that argument you had where you thought of the perfect come back after the event? That happens because you’ve had time to absorb the information and formulate the correct (or witty) response.
To truly make the right call when managing people in small business you need to think of different scenarios for each possible outcome.
Negativity can be a slippery buggery and it rarely follows the same course of action, so to combat it you need a strategy that’s achievable, engages staff, can be implemented and avoids roadblocks.
But remember, you can only shape a response once you’ve absorbed the information first.
Life has conditioned you to be a certain way, and that’s called confirmation bias. As people, we all bring different biases to the table in our personal lives, but as a leader, that bias needs to remain at the front door.
To do so means, in a way, unlearning everything you believe and being open to more understanding or education for others who view the same circumstance very differently to you.
Leadership is not about proving you’re right, it’s about making the right decisions at the right time. To do that, you need to hear the perspective of others (be it your staff, customers or suppliers).
And great leadership is having the courage to not always support the dominant group, because they are not always right.
Imagine the potential of the US if both sides were able to diffuse the situation and come together to understand each other for the greater good - no riots, no aggression, no political instability.
The best way to diffuse a tense situation is to take on the viewpoints and ideas of others and validate what they have said.
The best way to engage a potential hostile person or environment is to:
But you’re human and prone to feeling upset, angry about things, right? Of course and you can have those emotions you just need to be structured in how you let them out.
Holding your emotions inside is never good, so you need to acknowledge what’s happening to you and understand where it's coming from.
But in leadership you need self-awareness and to be conscious of how you react towards unpleasant situations. Angry outburst, while sometimes understandable, never helps in front of your team.
That means, like absorbing information, you need to take a breath and think before you speak. That will stop you criticising, blaming and devaluing the people around you. Doing this wins the respect and loyalty of your staff.
Being a leader is not an easy task. That’s why so many people get it wrong - just look at politicians.
Genuine, authentic leadership is rooted in an understanding that the management of people and the operation of a business are best done by productive means.
If you can commit to leadership done by developing the correct response; via absorbing the information presented to you, being able to see both sides of the coin, diffusing tension and controlling your own emotions, you’ll have a formula to be productive and avoid being reactive in situations that only serve to blur your vision and stop you achieving your goals.
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