I was on a conference call with the CEO of Dale Carnegie of Tampa Bay and he asked, “As leaders, can we ever just ‘go off’?” We were brainstorming about initiatives our teams are investing time and resources in, and he said that he asks this question of fellow CEO’s frequently. His question stuck with me. The question itself implies that we, as leaders and people, really want to ‘go off’. We feel the need to ‘go off’ and the person we are about to unload on really needs to hear it. Maybe they even deserve it.
The Tampa CEO said he normally follows up the first question with a second question about what happens if/when we do ‘go off’. I expect at that point he normally hears one of two things: 1) someone’s very recent emotional explosion that continues providing gratification to the person who ‘went off’ or 2) a story about someone’s regret over momentary lapse of emotional control that resulted in damage to a relationship.
How would we answer his questions? If we tend to think it’s our right as leaders to unload, lose it, or go off, let’s think through the benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, we get to say exactly what we are thinking, release some steam, and tell the person the hard truth. In the moment, that feels darn good! Unfortunately, the person on the receiving end of our wrath may not even get the message, or if they do, they resent it. As our anger is verbally unleashed, their indignation (or fear) erects a barrier that shields them from us and repels our message. Is the momentary release worth the cost?
Has this been a blind spot for you? You thought you were getting the result you wanted (correcting a problem and improving performance) but, instead, you have often ended up with damaged relationships and rejection of important corrective messages? You are not alone! In his book, What Got Your Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith says this guilty pleasure (speaking when we are angry) is one of the 20 common habits that hold us back as leaders.
If we want to “get there”–to achieve personal and team performance breakthroughs, we may have to make the decision that “going off” is no longer an option.