Battle Chaos with Stability

One of the best things you can do as a leader, and one of the best things aspiring leaders can do, is to bring stability and consistency in all you do, no matter the circumstances.

Life has some serious ups and downs both at work and at home, and letting those ups and downs dictate your behavior can be devastating to those around you. If you are a manager, you have team members that are looking up to you. If you are a parent, you have kids that look up to you.

And actually, no matter what your role is, there are people that look up to you whether you know it or not. Even kids on a playground are looked up to by younger kids.

Stability in Leadership Anchors the Team

Battle Chaos with Stability 1

I’ve drawn this picture on whiteboards dozens of times to help developers aspiring for higher level roles and managers wanting to lead their teams well.

The red line exemplifies the emotions that come from the circumstances of life. It’s the emotional rollercoaster most people ride when they just let life pull them along. It could be caused by a new fire that popped up at work, a late paycheck, or a furnace that stopped working on a cold morning. A project is failing. You lost a job. You got a promotion. A major success here or a setback there. Most people tend to allow their emotions to swing high and low based on their circumstances. But leaders don’t.

The Blue line represents the emotions of strong leaders during the same circumstances. Good leaders bring stability to chaos by showing consistent behaviors and a positive mindset even when things are going really bad.

Leaders are self-aware enough to know that people are following them. They know that if they swing low, the whole team swings low. If they swing high, the whole team swings high. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing until the valley comes. And the valleys always come.

What stability in leadership does, is it sets the pace and the expectations for those that are following. So that while the ups and downs are pulling followers high and low, leaders are bringing them back to center. Helping them keep a level head. Helping them not to panic when things are bad, and helping them to stay centered and focused when things seem to be going well, so that the next valley doesn’t wipe them out.

Examples of Leadership Stability

I remember one interaction specifically with a team member a while back. Something had gone hay-wire and I remember them asking me, “how are you okay? Shouldn’t we be….” and I remember telling them, “Don’t panic unless you see me panicking, and I’m not planning on panicking.” I could tell as their expression eased, that they understood. the team needs to see a stability in leadership no matter what the circumstances.

If you’ve ever watched Band of Brothers, an HBO mini-series about Easy Company back in WWII, then you’ve seen this type of leadership in action. Here’s a clip from Episode 3. You’ll notice when everyone else gets pinned down, Sgt. Winters is walking up the road telling his men to get up and move. Take a look.

This is obviously a drastic representation of what I’m talking about, and hopefully you never have to lead in situations like this. Regardless, stability is one characteristic your teams need from you all the time.

How to build Stability

If you are reading this, perhaps you’ve been more volatile with your leadership behaviors in the past. Perhaps emotionally you swing a little too low when the chips are down, and maybe you get carried away when things are going pretty well.

The first thing I would say is ask your team members to give you feedback, and make sure it’s a safe space. What I mean is, most leaders, when they ask their team for feedback, will probably get a “yes, you’re good” response. Even bad leaders tend to get mediocre or positive responses from team members when asking for feedback. That’s not the point of this blog post.

Perhaps in your next team meeting pass out 3×5 cards or use an ideaboardz.com page to gather anonymous feedback. Ask the question:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do my emotions impact my behaviors at work?

(1 – not at all, 5 -some of the time, 10 – all of the time).

If everyone responds with a “1”, then you may not be human. If everyone responds with a “10”, then you have some work to do.

Depending on where you are at, here are three practical tips to build stability into your leadership behaviors.

  1. Check your emotions every day when you start work. Put a note on your calendar, or a sticky-note on your monitor to remind you.
  2. Ask you team for in-the-moment feedback loops. Tell them when they see it in meetings, or 1:1, that you’d like them to connect with you afterwords to help you see it. And remember, this has to be a safe feedback loop for them. Don’t ask someone you don’t trust, and don’t ask someone that doesn’t trust you.
  3. Before every meeting, whether it’s a 1:1, a team meeting, or a presentation, where’s my mood elevator at (I may talk about the mood elevator in another post). Basically, are you on the high end of emotions – meaning happy, curious, interested, approachable, or the low end of emotions – grumpy, hangry, introspective, concerned.

If you start putting these tactics into practice, you’ll start to drive more consistent behaviors into your leadership approach and people will begin to notice.

Use Emotions Purposefully

In case you are reading this, and thinking, okay, so I shouldn’t use emotions at all, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t let emotions define your behavior. In addition, use emotions purposefully. There are times when you should be upset, and there are times when you should be somber.

There is a time to be sorrowful. When you have a team member in your office crying because of a personal issue, don’t be afraid to have empathy and respond. I remember I had one team member in my office with tears in their eyes telling me about their brother’s battle with cancer. That’s not a time to be a robot. That’s a time, perhaps, to weep with them in their sorrows. I don’t mean manufactured emotions, I mean allowing emotions out that you normally might not.

There is a time to be angry. I had a contractor many years ago who really tried to mettle in the affairs of other contractors and employees. They manufactured a lie about one of my full-time staff members, and I caught them in their lie. While I didn’t yell or throw a fit, I was stern, and after hearing their pleas and excuses walked them out the door.

There is a time to celebrate. We had just finished our first PI Planning session (sorry, that’s a Scaled Agile term you’ll have to look up on the scaledagileframework.com website). Everyone was stoked about this new way of work we were able to usher into the organization. It was the first PI Planning session ever, and my teams piloted it, and piloted it well. We finished the day early, and there was at least a week of exhaustion and exhilaration at having pulled it off.

Conclusion

If you are a leader, be consistent in your mood, your behaviors, and your interactions. Your team will appreciate it, and so will your leadership. As a leader you are constantly on stage in front of your peers, your team, and your upline leadership. The worst thing you can do is ride your emotional rollercoaster all the time. That’s one of the best ways to lose credibility and climb down the corporate ladder.

I remember about 3 years ago, I was making rounds to visit the various teams I was leading. One of the team members said, “What does angry Josh look like?” They all wanted to know, because for 4 years they had never seen me be visibly angry. In 8 years of leadership, leading multiple teams, working with dozens and dozens of stakeholders over the years and not once did they see “Angry Josh”.

Keep your behaviors in-check. Stay grounded and consistent. The people on your team will see that, and try to do the same. That’s how you battle chaos with stability.

2 thoughts on “Battle Chaos with Stability

  • This is the one thing I learned from you (of many things). Even tho I lead with my heart for people I work incredibly hard to “check my emotions”. This is incredibly hard some days then others.

    Thank you for your leadership and these reminders I am forever grateful of you.

    • Thanks for saying that, Catherine! I really miss working with you and the rest of the team. You helped me grow as much or more than I helped you.
      Keep doing great things!

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