Karin’s Leadership Articles

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.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    When someone is upset with me, it usually has nothing to do with me. There’s something going on in this individuals life that’s unrelated to our interaction.

    On the rare occasion I find myself drinking the snarky Kool-Aid, I hit the pause button, close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, smile, and I’m back on track.

    Have a great weekend Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks, Steve. I imagine all that yoga you do helps reduce snarky as well 😉 You raise really important points here.

  2. Lisa Hamaker

    Great phrase, “my rage had me operating out of the wrong side of my brain.” As Steve eludes to, finding that second to take a break is clear.

    One of my favorite phrases for these situations is “Always be Gracious”, it reminds me of Grace Kelly and how she lived up to her name, in the movies at least.

    • Karin Hurt

      Lisa, love that….”always be gracious.” what a nice way to roll.

  3. Woody Till

    Karin, Oh so true. I try to believe that each person does and says things with the best intentions. That might sound Pollyannaish but it helps keep the “Road Rage ” down. Speaking of road rage I always say to myself, when I am cut off on the road, It is their road anyway.

    • Karin Hurt

      Woody, Thanks so much. I think the world could always use a little less “road rage.”

  4. John Stoker

    I have always tried to remember that everyone is rational at least from there own point of view. The challenge comes in trying to understand that point of view. Thinking about the questions that you want to ask them or the answers that you need to know has helped me to stay more rational when confronted with the raging fury of my feelings and subsequent irrationality. Great post!

    • Karin Hurt

      John, Excellent add… thinking about the right questions at least slows us down enough to initiate an appropriate conversation. Thank you.

  5. LaRae Quy

    Wow, what a powerful story, Karin!

    There have been several times in my career when I felt I was not being given a fair shake. There are those who say that the squeaky wheel get the attention—but I have found although being the one to point out the errors of others may get you a temporary reprieve, the operative word is temporary.

    My feelings of being marginalized were not gone, and all I had done is cause more rancor from those who initially sidelined me.

    I never used words that I later regretted—in fact, I seldom used words in the moment at all. I am strategic in my thinking and would find ways to attack the soft underbelly when they were least expecting it. It’s not that I did nothing—just the opposite. But it did mean swallowing pride and finding ways around the problem….

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, Thanks so much for sharing your story as well. Yeah, swallowing pride and focusing on solutions is so key.

  6. Alli Polin

    That’s a great story from your friend, Karin. It can feel next to impossible to hold it in when someone’s pushing me over the edge. The best thing I’ve learned to do (and I’m trying!!) is to walk away, breathe, and disengage from the pressure cooker of the interaction. It’s not a permanent walking away but just enough to remind myself that it’s my choice to be the leader (and human being) I want to be.

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