I came back from vacation and my team started updating me on what happened when I was gone. I wasn't happy at all. In fact, I overreacted and started tearing apart the deliverables one by one. I didn't say a positive thing to anyone. By doing that, I thought I would send the message that "quality" was the way to go, and I wouldn't accept anything less. As you probably guessed, my negative rant didn't go well.
Rumors started flying around the office that I wasn't prepared as a leader and that I couldn't control my emotions. I lost my team's confidence in my leadership, and other leaders within the organization started acting different around me. It was clear that how I handled the situation was not only wrong but also hurt my career and negatively impacted how I led the team.
Luckily, I lived to tell that story, and I'm happy to say, I was able to turn it around. I wanted to share with you a few tips on how you should handle negative emotions the right way. Basically, don't be me.
1. Tell personal stories. Your team will remember them long after they've forgotten your lecture.
Build a mental file of stories you can bring out to share in any situation. You can use storytelling as a form of coaching so your team members not only understand what your expectations are but also how you developed them and what makes you tick. The best stories reveal a little of your own weaknesses and mistakes, so don't be afraid to get appropriately vulnerable with your team.
I missed a real opportunity to teach my team how to do things differently. All they learned from my tantrum was that Robbie would get mad at them after he came back from a trip. They didn't really learn how to do things better in my absence. Had I told them about a time I was in their place, what I did, and how I fixed it, they would have learned how to do better work. Don't tell stories that make you sound sarcastic or that belittle them. Keep it authentic, positive and focused on what your team can learn from your mistakes.
2. Scrap your ego. Your team members are just as human as you are.
Why did I overreact with my people? Because I could. I knew it wouldn't improve their performance or create a positive esprit de corps. But I did it anyway. The whole tirade wasn't designed to build my team. It was designed to show my team who could have a fit at work and who couldn't. That's not management, that's unrestrained ego. And ego will poison your emotional culture, profitability, and entrepreneurial career faster than anything else.
So, I did something I normally didn't do. I said sorry in a face to face meeting, and quickly changed the way I lead in order to regain confidence from my team. Instead of me giving random feedback, I created multiple guidelines that showed exactly what I expected from each deliverable. This gave them clarity on what I needed, instead of just hoping and praying that what they created actually fit my criteria.
I also scrapped most of the negative feedback and talked about the things I really enjoyed with the deliverables and what I wanted to see more of.
And lastly, I created clear metrics that everyone was responsible for. That way they knew exactly what they needed to shoot for. Those changes made a huge difference in how my team viewed me, and I was able to incorporate this for future team members as well.
When you let go of your ego, you'll be amazed how productive your team can be.
3. Practice protecting your team members from other people's reactions.
When other people--customers or other leaders--start to let one of your team members have it, step in and deflect the criticism. You'll gain enormous respect and loyalty from your team each time you do. But more than that, you'll create a habit for yourself. Practice that habit often enough and it will become your character. Eventually, you won't want to see your team hurt by anyone--not even yourself.
Had I made a habit of protecting my team from other people's emotional reactions, I'd have protected them from my own, too. I didn't, and I'm the one who suffered for it.
Good news, though, you don't have to be me. Instead, you can build a business with a legendary emotional culture. Focus on teaching through stories. Get rid of your ego. And make protecting your employees a habit.