Overreactive leaders take every piece of information, every strand of data, and take action based on that information. They freak out over every little thing, and kill the momentum of their team. Overreactive leaders seem to be unable to prioritize or filter the fundamentally important information they receive from the anecdotal, anomalous data that floats around the organization. Think of someone who says in a meeting, "We've been getting a lot of complaints (read: two) about our new software upgrade." And on the strength of that weak data point, the overreactive leader calls the lead programmer, and demands that a new version be created immediately.

Non-freaked out leaders know that they need to take action, but they guard against overreaction. There are four keys to making adjustments effectively:

1. Communicate clearly. Communication sounds like it is as easy as telling someone what to do. But as a leader, you have be aware the nuances and subtleties of the project when talking to others about adjustments. What may be crystal clear to you may be perceived by others as a muddled mess. Your capacity to communicate clearly is essential when you make corrections to sustain momentum.

2. Stay empathetic. When making adjustments it is critical that you be empathetic. This means that you view the adjustment from the perspective of others and that you understand their interests, their orientation, their fears, and their anxiety. What is most important is that you view yourself from the perspective of others. When people feel that you don't understand where they're coming from or that you are not in touch with their situation, they will sense that you're freaking out instead of appreciating the context.

3. Give feedback. When making adjustments, and trying to appear that you aren't freaking out and overreacting, it is essential that you remain concrete. Give specific feedback focused on the obstacles and challenges. Make sure that your feedback addresses the problem at hand and provides a ground for dialog and discussion and does not come across as whiny criticism from on high. When making adjustments, be specific about what needs to be done, or what you think needs to be done, rather than what's failed.

4. Avoid blame. Any adjustment implicitly means that something has to move in a different direction. It is very tempting to blame others, asking them why they didn't assume responsibility or anticipate the problem. Leaders who make adjustments without freaking out blame no one. They recognize the need to adjust, and because the adjustment is happening on their watch, they assume responsibility for what may have gone wrong.

A good part of leadership is about making adjustments. Often, leaders are concerned with how they come off making such adjustments. Some are worried that they will come off as flip-floppers. Others worry that they will seem unprepared. The competent leader makes adjustments as an important but non-frantic pivot. The operative keyword is "non-frantic." The moment others feel that you are frantic and caught up in your own drama, like Chicken Little screaming that the sky is falling, they will see you as overreacting, and take very little of what you say seriously.

Published on: Feb 21, 2017
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