Paranoia will destroy ya, and so will anger and guilt

iStock_000004352302XSmallThe last three pieces of Head Trash addressed by Tish Squillaro and Timothy I. Thomas in their book, HeadTrash!: Cleaning out the Junk That Stands between You and Success, are Anger, Guilt and Paranoia.

While anger it is normal for everyone to experience at times, anger typically doesn’t make anything better. It may solve a short-term problem but it often does not solve the long-term problem and may even help to create more problems down the road. And what about those managers and leaders who use anger as a management tool, rather than as an occasional burst of emotion or bad judgement?

A leader must express observations, positive and negative and sometimes this means communicating a strong feeling of displeasure (Squillaro & Thomas 77). The best leaders coach, motivate, communicate and knock down barriers so that their team can succeed, but sometimes even the best coaches have to lay into their team a little bit for poor performance (Squillaro & Thomas 77).

Expressed skillfully, justified anger can have a powerful and positive effect, say Squillaro and Thomas (p 78). Problems with anger occur when the message becomes antagonistic (p 78).

When people feel their jobs are at stake they take the path of least resistance in order to avoid their manager’s wrath (Squillaro & Thomas 78). Instead of doing what’s best for the business, people do what’s best for themselves and play a game of “keep the beast happy.” The boss then hears what he wants to hear because staff knows that to tell him anything different will incur an outburst (Squillaro & Thomas 79). When the focus becomes on not getting the boss angry, and not on the success of the business, the business, department or agency is in trouble.

Most people understand (but don’t always follow – including me) the common rules of anger management – if you get an email or text that upsets you, take a few minutes before responding. Never dress someone down in public and before getting upset with someone, make sure you clearly communicated your expectations in the first place. If you don’t tell people the destination you can’t be upset with them for arriving at the wrong place.

Other ways to mitigate anger:

  • Breathe. Ideally, get out of harms way. Walk away from the computer or the screen or the person and get some air. Come back in a few minutes (Squillaro & Thomas 90).
  • Put down the poison pen (or, respond, but DO NOT hit SEND) (Squillaro & Thomas 90). Does the message need an immediate response? If it does, at least take a couple of minutes before responding. A few minutes late is better than an terse response that may have just made things worse. If it doesn’t need an immediate response, maybe take the day or the evening to think about it and come back tomorrow.
  • Can you help me understand your thinking here.  (Squillaro & Thomas 91). I really like this one. Often times we forget that we are responding to the world from our own frames of reference rather than from someone else’s, particularly someone who doesn’t have our background, experience or education.

Guilt. If Anger is the hammer in the manager’s tool bag, then Guilt is the screwdriver because it twists both ways. Its a tool used by some managers and we also use it to beat ourselves up. Some managers with good intentions use guilt to justify keeping someone in a position long after its apparent they don’t belong there – the problem is you’re paying someone to essentially NOT do a job, while putting the burden on their co-workers to pick up the slack.

No one is winning here. Even the employee who is being carried on the ropes will eventually fall down – either by existing management when they finally grow a pair, or by new management who doesn’t have a previous relationship with the individual, or eventually the person screws up so much, it cannot be ignored. You don’t want to wait for the big screw up though because the collateral damage can be catastrophic.

It’s not fair to a person to keep them in a position they aren’t qualified for, nor have the skills for (Squillaro & Thomas 97). You can send them to training, counsel them, coach them, but ultimately if all that doesn’t change the situation, it’s your job as a manager or leader to help them find a more suitable position – and to help them see that you may have to show them the door.

The “costs” of a guilt ridden leader:

  • Postpone decisions to avoid stress or conflicts (Squillaro & Thomas 98). The situation then become irrelevant as its overcome by events and usually not to your benefit. Also, not addressing the problem just increases your own personal stress until the thing you want to avoid becomes all-consuming.
  • Keep people in positions far longer than they should (Squillaro & Thomas 98).
  • Frequently restructure teams, sometimes even hiring more help to avoid firing or demoting the poor performers (Squillaro & Thomas 98). In the meantime, everyone else sees what’s going on – trust in the leader erodes and some of the best and brightest will seek other opportunities.

Decisions need to be made. Sometimes people need to be fired or demoted but this can be done with dignity and in many cases, with a severance check, job placement services or extended healthcare for a few months to help them with basic human needs in the interim. And yes, I’ve been in exactly this position – and I hated it and lost a good friend because of it. I’ve had friends who were in the wrong positions and telling them that is among the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I’ve also seen where they flourished in their new positions. Sometimes the friendships didn’t survive but a leader has to make the decisions for the team – it’s that whole ‘needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one,’ thing that Spock says in Star Trek.

Finally, we come to Paranoia. As the eloquent poet Ray Davies, lead singer of The Kinks, said in Destroyer, “paranoia will destroy ya.” As defined by Merriam-Webster, Paranoia is a tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others. In other words, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they are out to get you.

The paranoid person is always looking for the hidden intention (Squillaro & Thomas 114). I think this is part of the reason that no one likes to be disconnected when they are away from the office, like being on travel, on vacation or just taking a sick day at home. We wonder what’s going on in our absence and whether its going to cause problems for us when we return. I remember in high school that I hated missing a party or activity because I thought I’d be missing out on some amazing event, or more honestly, I thought I’d be missing out on The Sure Thing.  (If you don’t understand the reference – Google ‘the sure thing’ and ‘John Cusak’). I guess we carry some of this baggage into our work world too.

Paranoia comes in two forms, you either try to do everything or you do nothing. Either you go to a hyperactive mode to try to cover ever tracks (Squillaro & Thomas 115), which can stress you out because there’s always something you’re not covering (or at least paranoia makes you believe so). Or you don’t do anything for fear that someone will use whatever you said or did as ammunition against you (Squillaro & Thomas 115). Just look what Paranoia did to former President Richard Nixon.

While paranoia can leave you fighting battles that don’t exist (I barely have the energy for the battles that do exist), (Squillaro & Thomas 121), there is also the realities of the office and the workplace. Yes, sometimes they are out to get you and yes, sometimes you weren’t invited to the meeting, or it was held when you were on vacation, on purpose. To counter these challenges:

  • Decide that if a problem arises, you’ll deal with it (Squillaro & Thomas 122). Know that you’ve come this far in life by being able to address problems and issues and you will handle this too.
  • Check your thoughts with a trusted advisor (Squillaro & Thomas 123). A friend can help you get your own voice out of the way.
  • Don’t assume, ask for clarity (Squillaro & Thomas 125). That great question we learned earlier comes in handy here too: Can you tell me about your thinking here?
  • Note situations that trigger suspicious thoughts (Squillaro & Thomas 126). This will help you keep better tabs on things to pay attention too and things to ignore.

We all have Head Trash. We have all experienced, or even dished out plenty of Head Trash of our own. When a leader’s Head Trash can go unchecked it can have a huge impact on them, their employees and the bottom line (Squillaro & Thomas 127) Excessive Head Trash may even result in the downfall of an entire business. Having Head Trash doesn’t mean you’re damaged goods, but it is up to you to recognize when corrosive and toxic thoughts are damaging your leadership and your business, and figuring out how to manage them (Squillaro & Thomas 130). Start slow. Make small changes. Journal the Journey as you go and soon, the entire direction of the ship will turn in the right direction.

Squillaro, Tish, and Timothy I. Thomas. HeadTrash!: Cleaning out the Junk That Stands between You and Success. Austin, TX: Emerald Book, 2013. Print.

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