The Storm after the Storm
In the summer, Durham, where I live, is under a severe thunderstorm warning close to weekly. The warnings all sound the same--a potential for high winds, hail and flash flooding. Sometimes it rains, sometimes not, but we never see high winds or hail. Until last week. Durham endured a storm that brought with it 80 mph winds and torrential rains. The severe winds lasted less than 10 minutes.
Though the winds were short, our neighborhood lost power that was not restored for days. (It is hot sleeping in humid Durham without air conditioning.) Many huge tree limbs broke from trees causing widespread damage, but not as much as the five trees that fell on houses destroying them. (Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.) Ten minutes of nature’s ire caused days, and for some, months of damage.
The brevity and severe impact of the storm got me thinking about leadership. Leaders are often under great stress. Many times things are not going their way and they doubt their leadership. They also can doubt their team's effectiveness. These conditions make it easy for leaders to lose their temper. However, it is critical to remember the long term damage a short tantrum can cause.
I have been the target of one leader’s explosion. When I was a division director, a Head, who I respected and was generally even keeled, disagreed with something I said at a meeting and exploded at me. After the meeting I talked to the Head and he apologized. However, the outburst had long term negative consequences.
At future meetings, I was less likely to contribute. I was certainly less likely to argue a position counter to the Head’s even when a dissenting view would be helpful. It also made me a less confident leader. I was thinking about how the Head would react to each decision I made. Finally, the outburst had a chilling effect on the other folks around the table. They also contributed less, not wanting to be the target of an outburst. And this was a response to a Head who rarely acted that way. Think about leaders that regularly lose their temper.
It is critical for leaders to stay even keeled. It is not to say that leaders should not have high expectations; they should. They also need to measure their reactions when their expectations are not met. Leaders, who are human, and do melt down must apologize to all who witnessed the behavior quickly and sincerely. They have to allow that their behavior did not meet the behavioral expectations of the school and they know it, own it, and will strive to do better.
The damage will still be there but hopefully will be muted and eventually forgiven. After all, my air conditioning is working again.