How These 3 Toxic Leadership Behaviors Could Be Poisoning Your Team


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I am a sports fan. I love to watch basketball, golf and football. We are all used to seeing “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” play out. Watch anytime, and you will see athletes express themselves with fist pumps, happy dances and signature celebration routines.

At the other end of the spectrum, you see deep despair and frustration over a loss or failure to perform. As a Detroit Lions fan (one that has supported them through many losing seasons), I have watched with interest as coach Dan Campbell gives emotional speeches after both losses and wins. He openly weeps and never hides his emotions. The reaction to the emotional behavior of athletes and coaches is accepted, even applauded as being authentic. However, is getting emotional in the workplace viewed the same way?

I would argue that the answer to that question is no!

Navigating emotions in the workplace has always been tricky. Today, with the constant pressure to do more and do it faster and cheaper, some are pushed to the breaking point. A 2023 Gallup State of the Global Workplace Study asked workers if they experienced a lot of feelings the day before taking the survey. In the United States, 53% reported feeling stressed the day before, and 20% reported feelings of anger. Emotions are part of who we are, which means we will be frustrated, angry and elated at some point at work. I am not a counselor or mental health professional. However, I do know that communication is key to reducing conflict and tension at work. Here is some practical communication advice for what not to do and what to do.

Related: Why it is Critical for Leaders to Show Emotions at Work

Don’t lash out

Picture this. You are working on a project, and the deadline gets moved up a week. Your immediate reaction is to get angry, yell about how impossible it is to meet the deadline, and draft a nasty email. There are various degrees of anger, and in pressure-filled situations, it is easy to say or do something you might regret. Use the ten-second rule. Create some space and time to think. Walk away for ten seconds or ten minutes. This will help you avoid making a scene. It will also give you time to create a logical case for what must be done to help you meet the deadline.

Another technique that I learned while working on a video project with psychologists is self-talk. Tell yourself why it is important that you think positively rather than negatively about a situation. Play out the scenarios in your head. What happens when you get angry? What happens when you control that emotion and react in a healthy, positive manner? When you talk through a situation in your head, you are less likely to play it out because you can see the results. And often, that is not a pretty picture. It is important to be self-aware of our emotions and how we will come across to others.

Related: How to Cultivate Emotional Intelligence as a Strategic Leader

Don’t vent

I know how easy it is to get frustrated, especially when you see the same problems or issues arise time after time. You feel like the movie “Ground Hog Day” where you keep doing the same thing over and over, and it never gets resolved. We all feel frustration at some point, no matter what level we are at in a company. What you do with that frustration is important. I have seen many vent when a situation gets to be too much to oversee. They go from person to person complaining.

This is terrible behavior for anyone, but if you are a leader, you really need to keep it under wraps with colleagues and superiors. You need to focus on what will move the company ahead, not what frustrates you. You need to be able to manage whatever comes your way with grace and poise. When you vent or unload, you sabotage your progress.

Instead, think like an attorney and prepare your case. Try to define the problem clearly and factually. Do your homework. Write down two or three key background points that you can share with the individuals who can help resolve the problem. When you do the work to make the case and propose viable solutions, you go from being the person who rants and raves to the problem-solver.

If you must vent, use another person that you trust to help you gain perspective. It could be a colleague or mentor. One word of caution: choose this person carefully, or your struggle might end up as water-cooler talk.

Related: 9 Best Practices to Improve Your Communication Skills and Become a More Effective Leader

Don’t take offense

I know what you are thinking. That is easy to say. It is not. This is a lesson I have learned many times as someone who works in a creative field. I have conceived a video or written a script only to be told it did not “quite hit the mark.” I will brag here and say that, generally, my work is much better than what they suggest, but it is their project, and I must consider their point of view.

Instead of taking offense and acting hurt, I try to respond thoughtfully and measuredly. I don’t play the victim. “Don’t you trust me?” “I don’t understand why you always question everything I do.” “Why won’t you just let me do my job?”

Sound familiar?

You are unlikely to get much support when you take offense to questions and sulk, This tactic might have worked in your personal life, but it is ineffective in the workplace. Instead, use your communication and persuasion skills to explain your position logically and concisely and then stop talking. Develop toughness and a new perspective. Remember, it is not personal; it is business.

In the workplace, emotions can get the best of us and cloud our judgment, or we can use them to fuel conversations and interactions that strengthen our relationships. It’s a choice.

Related: 4 Trends That Will Disrupt Communication Strategies



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