I was pretty shocked by the reports of how Laura had acted in that impromptu encounter. Clearly I had to address the “rude and snarky attitude” but first I had to understand it. “Can you tell me what happened?” I asked, praying for an explanation.
And there it was in all the glory– the rest of the story. Snarky didn’t come out of nowhere. Stupid behavior seldom does. More often one misstep triggers another and the dance begins. Unproductive at best. But even more tricky if when the music stops you’re the one caught singing off-beat.
And so I told her my story straight off the “Karin Hurt’s worst leadership moments” highlights reel (you can stop now, it’s not searchable on YouTube).
It was after a long day, long month, long quarter. We were both were tired. Trust was low between our departments– and competition was high–a terrible cocktail. And then her ugliness hit me right in my weak spot. I was convinced she was discriminating against one of my top guys. Perhaps she was, perhaps she wasn’t (he’s later proved himself as rock star… just saying).
What I do know for sure is that my rage had me operating out of the wrong side of my brain. I listened to the spewing stupidity and responded completely unelegantly and threw in a bad word (okay, maybe two)– right in front of HR. Poor choice. The aftermath was ugly.
When debriefing the situation with a close colleague, he told me a story that has stayed with me for years.
“Karin, when I was little, I was one of the few minorities in a primarily white school. I was picked on (they’d probably call that bullying now). These kids would rile me up to the point that I would feel like I had to defend myself, and I’d end up being the one sitting in the principal’s office. Because– I threw the first punch. You lose all ability to defend your position when you’re the guy with blood on your hands.”
Yup. No matter what was right or what was wrong, I was the screamer with the bad words.
It’s easy to justify our less than elegant leadership behavior (to ourselves) because someone else “started it.”
Always remember their behavior is entirely beside the point.
Lead elegantly, and the turkeys will lose their steam.