Oh, the corporate drama.
“The CEO is mad. He made a bunch of investments in new tech companies that aren’t panning out. I don’t think you should tell him the bad news. He gets so mad it is scary. The other day the veins on his neck were sticking out and, no fooling, he was foaming at the mouth. He actually spat on me he was so mad when I brought him bad news. He might just get so wound up that he fires you on the spot.”
“My direct reports are a bunch of wimps. They don’t speak up. They don’t disagree. They actually cower. What good are they? They don’t help me at all. I guess I am all on my own in running this company. They are worthless.” Not really on par with being a successful leader.
I define drama as getting ourselves and others unnecessarily upset by the stories we tell ourselves. You probably think this story is contrived or exaggerated. It is not. It is the drama that was very present and pervasive in a Fortune 500 client. And, drama runs rampant in most companies.
- “Did you hear about that decision the exec team made? How stupid can they be? They don’t know anything about this business.”
- “I heard a RIF was coming. I am pretty sure you and I are on the short list this time around.”
- “Have you checked your 401k lately? Mine is sucking wind.”
- “That customer is a complete dope. I can’t believe what they expect of us.”
People like being upset. They like the buzz. Part of the attachment to drama is rooted in our physiology. Our sympathetic nervous system is designed to protect us from danger. When we are under threat, it fires the “fight/flight” response that releases adrenaline into our blood stream. Adrenaline stimulates all of the systems of the body to prepare to run or fight. It is also very addictive. We don’t need real threats to get a hit of adrenaline. By creating drama, we can get ourselves sufficiently aroused to experience the adrenaline high.
Unfortunately, we aren’t at our best when we are hyper-aroused. We lose some of our ability to be objective, to generate alternatives, to be creative. Developing a high performance teamrequires leadership with the understanding of the detriment of this type behavior. Executive management teams, like the one described above, become more cautious and careful, less expressive and more self-focused. In this case, they put themselves in a place where they simply could not effectively respond to the competitive environment. As their results deteriorated, the CEO retired and left the mess he and his team had created for his successor to clean up.
How should you respond to drama?
- Become a Zen monk. I say that a little “tongue-in-cheek” but am completely committed to the direction. Don’t join the drama around you. When you stay out of it, you avoid putting a log on the fire that only makes the drama stronger.
- Monitor your reactions. Notice the stories you are telling yourself about the things that occurring around you. Pay attention to how you might be scaring or angering yourself. Prefer a stance of calm detachment. Notice what is going on without being attached to how it should or shouldn’t be.
- Maintain “clean” energy. You can’t work with people without stepping on each other’s toes. Unresolved resentments don’t disappear on their own. Instead, they fester and grow. Small slights can become team-splitting events unless you become aware of any negative energy you have toward those on your team and choose to resolve it.
- Develop a spirit of gratitude. Gratitude is a powerful and wonderful life skill. It allows you to release frustration, irritation, negativity and pain. Each of us has a multitude of reasons to be grateful. Sometimes we simply overlook them and become fixated on the negative. This is where an executive coach comes in handy.
In speaking of gratitude, I’d like to share this TED talk, which speaks to achieving happiness through gratitiude.
Continue your exploration of becoming less dense.