When you're down and out, or at least down for the count, what do you do? Think about it for a moment. Everyone's been there. What do you do when it's not coming up roses? How do you show your sadness, anger, your fear?
As a society we have not done a good job of preparing ourselves for the bad times. We spend hours practicing the right way to throw a baseball, swing a golf club, and stay straight on a balance beam. Yet, how many of us set time aside to simulate a job loss or the failure of a key project? We could learn so much by some resourcefulness training where we could take frightening situations and play out worst case scenarios and notice how we would respond. They do that to plan for trips to the moon. Why not for trips to the office?
Why put a damper on the day? Well maybe it's the other way around, the day may well put a damper on us. Without knowing what to do when our fear and sadness buttons are pushed, we often revert back to childhood patterns of response and never find grown up ways of handling what is in front of us.
In my book, "Don't Bring It to Work" there are 13 patterns that are prevalent in every workplace in the world. They are the patterns of behavior we learned when we were still in diapers and perfected as our baby teeth gave way to molars and wisdom teeth. They became so much a part of us we stopped knowing what we were doing, it is what is called becoming unconsciously competent.
Think of it this way. Remember when you learned to tie your shoes. There were lots of funny hand gestures to get the darn laces to become bows that would link together. Remember how good it felt when you could tie your shoes without even thinking about it? That is you becoming competent at an unconscious level so you don't even have to think about it.
Same thing as you learned to play your role in your family. Someone becomes the super achiever to make the family proud. Someone else becomes the rebel who is there to stand for right and justice if the family was ever put upon by those who stood for polarization and exclusion. Then there are the procrastinators who learned to play it safe and not get work finished because of fear of failure. Some of us became pleasers, afraid to say no or take a stand, and then there are the avoiders who run from conflict like a rabbit with a tiger after it.
Leaders are in a difficult position when it comes to the downside of the work day. Leaders are meant to be strong, competent, available, reliable, and fearless. So, as one CEO of a company told me, he was so ashamed that the project he had spearheaded had failed miserably and put the company at risk he had lunch delivered to his office so he would not have to face any of his staff in the cafeteria. His voice became a whisper when he said he would cry into his pillow at night to muffle the sounds so his wife would not hear him.
And a woman entrepreneur who had won award after award for her creativity in the hospitality industry mused "How would all my colleagues handle the fact that I have screaming arguments with my husband as a stress reducer when all he often says is "Here is how I would handle the situation".
So here are some tactics to help you get through the dark times:
- Find a talking partner and verbalize your fears. It will make them seem either smaller or less intense once you can talk about them. That is the truth. Once said it stops the amygdale, the older part of the brain where fear is registered from moving you into fight, flight, or freeze.
- Get a journal and write out the worst case scenarios. Then take the pieces of paper and throw them away, tear them up, crumple them, or get a bowl and burn them. This simple ritual helps you make more room in your brain for creative solutions to occur.
- Practice deep breathing at least three times a day: The 7/ 7/ 7/ 7 method where you breathe in through your nose to the count of 7; hold your breath to put more oxygen in your system to the count of 7; breathe out through your mouth to the count of 7; hold your breath to empty to the count of 7 and do this 7 times.
- Visualize yourself as a tall tree with roots deep into the ground. That will give you a sense of steadiness so that when the winds blow and the rains pound you will stay strong and rooted. Don't believe this works, put your arms out in front of you and ask someone to push your arms down. I bet you will be stronger when you are visualizing the tree image than when you are just standing there.
- Here are some quotations to put in your office or as refrigerator art: "Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be"; "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, character is what you really are". They help keep you centered.
In the eastern philosophies they talk about "feeding the hungry ghost". That means putting lots of energy into what in our "Total Leadership Connections TM" program we call the "Knots" that tie us up as in "am not, cannot, have not, will not, and not like me". Remember, most of our greatest learning comes from the tough times rather than sitting around a swimming pool sipping margaritas. So, talk, write, breathe, visualize, quote, you will be more prepared to handle what lies in front of you with more verve and style and be the type of leader you would want to hand around with in the good times.