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Can you recover from a temper tantrum?

Updated February 19, 2019 - 9:46 am

Joan storms out of the office. The door slams.

And everything comes to a screeching halt.

The meeting has barely begun. Now it’s over. Today, there will be minimal progress generated by this senior-level sales team. Why? The leader has blown her lid and lost the respect of her managers in one flaming fait accompli. What a way to start the week!

Nancy, who is most distraught about the situation, speaks up in a lame attempt to ease the tension. No use. Team momentum is shot. Slowly but surely, the seasoned leaders wander out of this conference room dazed and confused over what might come from this latest tirade. The bottom line: That momentary flash point rapidly digresses into a wasted day for eight highly paid executives. Calculate the math.

One minute of unbridled fury unleashed by the top leader on eight executives can cost the company at least 64 hours of plummeting productivity in just one full workday. Important decisions are delayed. Timid personalities are traumatized. Who knows the true cost of such an ego-fueled stunt! The lingering effect is deadly.

Yet, who among us hasn’t lost our smile over someone else’s dumb mistake?

We’ve all made our share of blunders and let our anger get the best of us. But when leaders blow their cool over a minor incident, it’s a BIG deal. Every time!

Why? Just call it the exponential multiplying factor (EMF). And whether you like it or not, EMF is alive and well in your company. As a senior executive, remember that sudden negative exertion of power triggers an exaggerated reaction further down the food chain. Remember the man who kicks the dog? The dog then turns and bites the cat. And so it goes.

You can trigger EMF in a millisecond. Recovering from such an instantaneous combustion takes a lot more time. Depending on the topic, it may require months or years for us to re-establish our positive presence in the minds of employees. And, they’ll never let on that we are still in catch-up mode. It will just be understood by the masses. They have long memories.

They’ll smile. They’ll laugh at your jokes. They’ll say flattering things to your face. And, just below the surface they’ll be waiting for your next shoe to drop. You’ll recognize the signs of the aftershock. Suddenly, your team will begin hesitating on making timely decisions. They will avoid difficult conversations that need to take place, and will allow your competition to walk away with your business because no one wants to tell you (the boss) any bad news.

So how can you recover from an embarrassing faux pas?Here are three suggestions:

1. Try your best to avoid expressing your anger in a group when your frustration is reallydisappointment with one specific person.

2. If you make such a mistake in front of a group, quickly and sincerely apologize to your team. Just as importantly, ask the individual who has sparked your ire to talk with you in private after the meeting. Let everyone within earshot hear your subtle request.

3. Make a point to rapidly change the topic of the conversation to something positive. Come back to the sensitive topic later in the discussion when you have regained your sense of humor.

Yes, you can turn your isolated slip into a teachable moment if you practice the art of recovery. But it requires some discipline on the leader’s part.

• First, you must limit these occurrences to rare incidents with diminishing frequency.

• Secondly, you must honestly admit mistakes when you make them. This enables direct reports and others to see that you understand your own human frailties and that you too are seeking to grow in your leadership responsibilities. Your reaction to your own angry outbursts sets the tone for your team. Turn a negative moment into a lasting memory! Imagine this.

Joan storms out of the office. The door slams.

And everything comes to a screeching halt.

Then realizing the impact on her subordinates, Joan turns on her heals. She steps back into the room with an embarrassed smile. She apologizes to the group for her hasty and misguided behavior. She invites the person who sparked her anger to discuss the matter in private. And she re-engages the group in a positive direction that results in congratulating someone in the group for a job well done.

Now that’s the shot you want heard “round the world!”

Keith Martino is head of CMI, a global consultancy founded in 1999 that customizes leadership and sales development initiatives. Martino is the author of “Expect Leadership,” a series of leadership books: “The Executive Edition,” “In Business, “In Engineering,” and “In Technology.”

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