Lead With Laughter: When Things Don't Go Exactly As Planned

One of the signs that someone is a great leader is that their team isn't afraid to approach them when they need help or support. Murphy's Law touches every industry. There's no workplace that's free of difficulties. The way a leader responds to these difficulties has a direct and profound impact on the morale and collective resilience of the organization.

Some of the most fascinating neurological research out there has to do with the way our bodies react in anticipation to an event. The events we're anticipating can be positive - knowing you're going to meet your funniest friend for a drink after work - or negative - telling your boss that a critical report is way behind schedule.

When we're looking forward to something good, we actually begin to experience some of the pleasure of the event before it even happens. Our blood pressure goes down, our circulation goes up, we feel more energized and emotionally resilient.

When we are looking forward to something bad, we experience some of the negative impact of the event even before it occurs. This can manifest in many ways, including elevated blood pressure, gastro-intestinal distress, and headaches. The more we dread the event, the worse these physical symptoms become.

As leaders, it's important that we really understand what it's like for our team to approach us with problems. Are we creating a situation where the very thought of coming to us makes our team members physically unwell? While we can't control our staffs' anxiety levels, we can control how we respond to negative news.  There's an ART to this:

A: Acknowledge the problem as it is presented to you. Restate what you've been told - the report is going to be late - as well as the consequences of this problem - the client is going to be very upset.

R: React to the bad news, not the bearer of it. Any set back will provoke an emotional response, but as a leader, your role is to present that response in a way that makes your team stronger. Extreme anger and upset need to be processed in a private setting. When you are composed enough to address your team, keep your commentary focused on the problem.

Avoid personal attacks, especially of the person who appraised you of the situation. If you make it emotionally dangerous to bring you bad news, no one is going to be willing to bring you bad news. They will delay and delay the unpleasant experience until addressing it becomes unavoidable. Generally, at this point, the problem has grown much larger than it needs to be.

T: Turn toward a solution. Once you know about a problem, the team's energy needs to be focused on fixing it. Conversations about blame and accountability can and should happen later, not in the heat of the moment.  Demonstrating your commitment to progress helps keep the team focused on moving forward.

Don't forget that humor will help diffuse the stress in the situation. Saying, "Someday we'll look back on this and laugh" is the best sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Lead with Laughter - you'll get amazing results!


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