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I Just Need to Vent

by Dr. James Cummings


Last week I was having a conversation with a manager at a local business. We had scheduled this meeting to discuss strategy. Upon my arrival in her office, it was immediately made clear to me that we were going to be talking about something on her mind that was unrelated to our scheduled meeting. Her topic? “I’m super pissed off today about the people on my team.”

I sat down, prepared to become a sounding board for her venting. Now this is fine to do – we all need to vent sometimes – I realized that I was getting a glimpse into a couple of aspects of her personality. Since management, leadership, and anything associated with being an owner or executive involves working with people, I took a moment to jot down my observations, in hopes that they might be useful to the readers of this publication.

What struck me first was how she seemed so intent on carrying out her desire to vent that she had clearly missed the three separate comments I had made about staying focused on the reason for our meeting (which was to discuss strategy). All sense of civility disappeared, and she began cursing and saying profoundly derogatory things about members of the team of people she supervised. As I sat and listened, watched, and felt her words and actions, I began to realize that I was probably not the only one who had been on the receiving end of her verbal judo. That’s when I remembered the idea of a microcosm – which says the little things people do are part of the bigger things people do. Stated differently, I was building a theory that suggested she was likely to act this way with other people, in other settings. I wondered how many missed connections she had with employees because she was more in tune with her own stuff than she was with members of her team?

The second thing that I noticed was how she had interrupted our scheduled activity so she could react emotionally to something completely unrelated to me and my role. I realized that she was telling me that she is the kind of person who tends to react rather than be proactive. As a result, we lost the majority of our scheduled time together. While having emotions – even having a passion about something and feeling quite strongly about it – are all fine and dandy, allowing them to completely derail a leader is probably less than ideal.

These lessons made me wonder how leaders balance frustration and emotion. I believe we show our true color when things in life (or work) are NOT going our way. It’s no big deal to be a successful leader when cash flow is high, customer traffic is strong, and turnover is low; it’s a completely different story when nine things have gone awry and the copy machine just died – and it’s only 9:15 a.m.

What would your staff say about you when the chips are down? Have you lost your cool at work? If your staff were to put on a play entitled, “what the boss does when the s**t hits the fan” – what would that look like?

We are all human, and managing frustration and emotion are a challenge for everyone. However, losing your cool at work is not a healthy practice. Here are some tips that may help you keep calm and forge ahead:

  • Remember that you are the leader and a source of inspiration for your staff. If they see you lose control, they have no incentive to manage their own emotions
  • Take time to engage in recreation outside the office. What recharges your batteries? When was the last time you did that?
  • Have fun inside the office. Set up a football/baby/other pool; hand out free pizza coupons; design staff t-shirts that are fun and that are monogrammed. Don’t be so serious!
  • Stay on top of yourself. Are you eating right? Getting daily physical activity? Sleeping well? How are things at home? A smart person would never build a house on sand – a strong, steady foundation is required. If your ‘foundation’ isn’t stable, identify the issues and resolve them!
  • Stay solution-focused – okay, the copy machine died, so what? How will you move forward and solve the problem?

The more you practice these kinds of positive behaviors, the easier they will become. It may be difficult at first, but remember that you set the tone for your organization. If you don’t like seeing others lose their cool, you have to show your team what to do when the chips are down!

At Tap the Potential, it is my intention to use the social sciences to help solve business challenges. When business owners are talking and thinking about topics like leadership, staff development, and strategy, work becomes less stressful and more rewarding for everyone.

Dr. James Cummings is a Business Strategist at Tap the Potential LLC, America’s Leading Rural Business Growers. James specializes in applying the best practices from the social sciences to solving complex rural business challenges.

James holds a Bachelors in Social Work from the University of Wyoming and earned his Doctorate of Psychology in Organizational Leadership & Development from the University of the Rockies.

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