I believe that if the spotlight is on us 24/7, eventually we’ll do something stupid. As business leaders, in a sense, we really are being watched: by our clients, our employees and those we report to — and maybe even investors and the media. While our mistakes may not be as public or as heinous Donald Sterling’s, they’re still out there for people to see. Here are three you can prevent.
Watch Where You Rant
We all love to do this — because, at a molecular level, we feel we have been wronged. Someone cut us off on the way to work. We should have gotten that promotion or new job. Our kids don’t listen to us.
We also love to believe we can turn this into a story that either is funny or will get people on our side. Too often we’re wrong about that. We just sound like whiny complainers.
Only comedians (think Louis Black), pundits (think Bill O’Reilly), and politicians (add your state senator or the leader of the opposition’s political party here) get paid to rant. As business leaders, we have two choices. One: turn our complaints into a better way to do things — and maybe make money on it. Two: tell them to our dogs or cats — who are on our sides already and won’t talk behind our backs.
Few Things Are More Viral than Outrage
This ties into our enjoyment of being resentful and superior. What better target than a billionaire who is badmouthing the people who helped make him rich! It gives us a chance to sit back, fold our arms across our chests and say, “I’d never do anything like that!” Suddenly we are better people — and we’re the ones who ought to be rich.
At your office, people are looking for ways to feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, one of them is discovering a reason to be annoyed, then building this into outrage. And with social media, the mythical water cooler is everywhere. As leaders, if we’re not providing ways for others to feel good — through recognition, reward and more responsibility — then they’ll find their own.
There are days when we’ve all had too much. We throw up our verbal hands and share our gripes. Choose when and where you do this.
Here’s my strategy: “brown thought clouds.” When something happens and I want to explode in unvarnished snarkiness, I say it all to myself. If I were a cartoon character, these words would appear in a thought bubble above my head. Then I get to smile (howamusing I am!), take a deep breath, clear it from my system, and try something better. Until they create a way to record my thoughts, I’m safe!
Mess Up and ‘Fess Up
None of us really expected to see Sterling apologize. (I’m sure he had plenty of lawyers telling him he’d said enough.) But taking personal responsibility as leaders is one of the most powerful things we can do. When the people we work with see that we don’t dump and run, and are willing to deal with the consequences of our poor choices as well as broadcast our best ones, we become people worth emulating — and following.