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Can You Recover from a Temper Tantrum?

Keith Martino

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Joan storms out of the office. The door slams, and everything comes to a screeching halt.

The meeting has barely begun. Now it's over. Today there will be minimal progress generated by this senior-level sales team. Why? The leader has blown her lid and lost the respect of her managers in one flaming fait accompli. What a way to start the week.

Nancy, who is most distraught about the situation, speaks up in a lame attempt to ease the tension. No use. Team momentum is shot.

Slowly but surely, the seasoned leaders wander out of the conference room dazed and confused over what might come from this latest tirade. That momentary flash point rapidly digresses into a wasted day for eight highly-paid executives. Calculate the math. One minute of unbridled fury unleashed by the top leader on eight executives can cost the company at least 64 hours of plummeting productivity in just one work day. Important decisions are delayed, and timid personalities are traumatized. Who knows the true cost of such an ego-fueled stunt. The lingering effect is deadly.

Yet, who among us hasn't lost our smile over someone else's dumb mistake? We've all made our share of blunders and let our anger get the best of us. But when leaders blow their cool over a minor incident, it's a big deal every time.

Why? Just call it the exponential multiplying factor (EMF), and EMF is alive and well in every company. As a senior executive, remember that sudden negative exertion of power triggers an exaggerated reaction further down the food chain.

One can trigger EMF in a millisecond. Recovering from such an instantaneous combustion takes a lot more time.

Depending on the topic, it may require months or years for us to re-establish our positive presence in the minds of employees. And they'll never let on that we are still in catch-up mode. It will just be understood by the masses. They have long memories.

They'll smile. They'll laugh at the leader's jokes. They'll say flattering things to their face. And just below the surface they'll be waiting for the next shoe to drop. Suddenly, the team will begin hesitating on making timely decisions. They will avoid difficult conversations that need to take place, and will allow competition to walk away with business because no one wants to tell the boss any bad news.

How Can One Recover from an Embarrassing Faux Pas?

Here are three suggestions:

1. Try to avoid expressing anger in a group when the frustration is actually disappointment with one specific person.

2. If a mistake is made in front of a group, quickly and sincerely apologize to the team. Just as important, ask the individual who made the mistake to talk in private after the meeting. Let everyone within earshot hear the subtle request.

3. Make a point to rapidly change the topic of the conversation to something positive. Come back to the sensitive topic later in the discussion when one has regained their sense of humor.

An isolated slip can be turned into a teachable moment if the art of recovery is practiced. But it requires some discipline on the leader's part. First, these occurrences must be limited to rare incidents with diminishing frequency. Second, honestly admit mistakes when they're made. This enables direct reports and others to see that human frailties are understood and that there is growth in one's leadership responsibilities. The reaction to one's own angry outbursts sets the tone for the team. Turn a negative moment into a lasting memory. Imagine this:

Joan storms out of the office. The door slams, and everything comes to a screeching halt.

Then realizing the impact on her subordinates, Joan turns on her heels. She steps back into the room with an embarrassed smile. She apologizes to the group for her hasty and misguided behavior. She invites the person who sparked her anger to discuss the matter in private. And she reengages the group in a positive direction that results in congratulating someone in the group for a job well done.

Keith Martino, author of Expect Leadership, has a passion for helping women business owners achieve stellar results.Martino is head of CMI, a global consultancy founded in 1999 that customizes leadership and sales development initiatives. Martino is the author of Expect Leadership, a series of four leadership books—The Executive Edition, in Business, in Engineering, and in Technology. He has also published three sales handbooks, Get Results, Results Now, and Selling to Americans. After more than 20 years and numerous awards at FedEx, Xerox, and Baxter Healthcare, Martino and his team were recently featured in an article published by Women in Technology International.

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