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  • Writer's pictureBrian Reaves

One Moment Can Change Everything

Man screaming at someone on the phone

Tom was the head of his organization. He was the leader and did not like to be questioned.

Blake had worked in Tom's organization for over fifteen years. He had known Tom since before Tom's rise to the top and felt they had a good working relationship. Unfortunately, Tom's promotion had created a monster.

Blake had heard from many people about Tom's infamous temper. Time and again, people would tell him how Tom had exploded on them, yelling at them and storming off, but Blake didn't believe any of it. "That's not the guy I know," he would say.

Then one morning just minutes before a big company event, Tom came to Blake and wanted a major part of the event changed and moved around. Logistically, it didn't work because many people on the team had to be in certain places at certain times, so Blake tried to explain it.

Then Tom exploded.

He pointed his finger at Blake and shouted, "I don't care what you have to do, you do it! I don't need your attitude! Just get it done!" Then Tom stormed off, leaving a completely confused Blake and the people around him watching in disbelief. And by "the people around him", I mean Blake's wife and son who happened to be there helping with the event.

Now I want you to imagine Blake's position. The attack (which is what it was) was completely unwarranted for the situation. Blake had a choice: walk out and let the event fall apart around Tom so he looked like an idiot, or fix Tom's stupid choices and make the event work.

Blake stayed and somehow made it work...but what Tom lost in that moment was irreplaceable.

As a leader, if you lose your cool and raise your voice to someone on your team (and especially in front of someone else) you instantly lose four important things:

1) Control of the situation. You may feel like you are establishing dominance and showing people who is in charge, but all you are doing is coming across as a hothead who is flying off the handle. You are obviously not in control of your emotions or the situation, and therefore you are seen as unstable and weak.

2) Respect. Anyone who sees you fly off the handle immediately loses respect for you. A good leader is a good example, and someone who is so insecure as to see the need for yelling and humiliation of a team member is not someone to be respected at all. Tom's humiliation of Blake in front of his family was unforgivable, and Tom immediately lost any respect Blake and his family had ever had for him.

3) Trust. When people lose trust in you as a leader, you will never fully regain it again. They may trust you 50%, 70%, or a little more, but they will never allow you the privilege of 100% again because you have shown yourself unstable. Blake realized in that moment that the Tom others had told him about was the real man, not the one he had seen for years. In that instant, Blake understood he could never trust Tom again, and he didn't.

4) Support and protection of your reputation. When a failing pattern is developed, people always look for the common denominator, and if that common denominator is you, it's not good. Tom exploded on another member of the team later, this time seen by others. Tom lost a dozen people who would have defended him when someone spoke badly of him. Now when people begin to talk about Tom in that department, there is no one who will stick up for him. Tom's image and reputation are completely tarnished.

So what do you do if you blow it? You're the leader, you've flown off the handle, said some things you shouldn't have, and left a tableau of destruction in your wake that an F5 tornado couldn't. How do you fix the situation?

1) Own up to your mistake. Let me explain a simple fact to you: You might as well own up to your stupid mistake because everyone else saw it and knows you did it. Ignoring the problem might soothe your fragile ego, but it's not fooling anyone. Admit you overreacted and did not display a good leadership example at that moment.

2) Apologize to the person in front of everyone who saw the incident. You may want to apologize in detail and explain why you reacted the way you did to the specific person later in a private meeting, but you make a public apology for how you handled the situation to everyone who saw it. When you explode on someone, you show them contempt and disrespect. You have damaged the relationship. Apologizing for your actions and attitude in front of others shows you still have respect for the person, and it shows you can admit when you make a mistake.

3) Learn from it and don't repeat it! If you touch a hot stove once, you'll remember the experience and think twice before ever touching any stove again on the off chance it's hot too. It's a valuable life lesson that saves us from bad choices. Unfortunately, our bad decisions don't often have immediate tactile feedback like a hot stove. Instead, we have to apply ourselves to learn from them. If we don't, then it gets easier and easier to settle into bad habits and do them again. In Tom's case, he continued losing his cool whenever he didn't get his way and kept irreversibly damaging work relationships in the process.

And make no mistake: this will severely limit your ability to lead. You will continue to alienate members of your team and undermine your support system to the point that your growth opportunities are gone. You may still be the leader of your organization or team (for a while, at least), but you'll never reach your full potential.

And in all honesty, you will never truly be a success. The damage you leave in the wake of your leadership tidal wave will come back to haunt you.

In Blake's case, he continues to work for Tom's organization. However, he does so now for his own personal success, not because he has any kind of belief in Tom's vision for the company.

Tom lost it on Blake again a few weeks after the first incident, and again, stormed out. He did call Blake into his office to apologize in private, but even then he made it sound like Blake had literally been begging to be yelled at for his actions.

I will leave you with this simple example of showing strong leadership in a stressful situation and establishing who is in charge.

A few months after his last explosion, Tom began to build in his intensity during one of his meetings with Blake. It was obvious this was headed toward another volcanic eruption of Mount Tom. In a calm yet firm manner, Blake said, "If you raise your voice to me again, it will be the last time. I will walk out that door and never look back. I am way too good of a leader to take that kind of crap from someone like you."

Tom sputtered and sat there wide-eyed for a moment, and then he calmed down. And since then he has never raised his voice to Blake again. A much-needed level of accountability was established and it actually helps Tom to be a better leader. He finally understands there are repercussions for bad actions.

Remember: It takes years to create a reputation, and seconds to destroy it.

Be diligent in being a good leader. One moment can change everything.

Brian Reaves the motivational magician

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