As human beings, we swim in daily drama. As leaders, any drama we’re involved in gets played out publicly. And there are lots of people out there who can’t wait to tell others about it, whether they get the background story right or not. It can be embarrassing, shameful, and can even result in a leader’s downfall.
Yet so much of the drama is self-induced and a blind spot for the leader experiencing it. They stir up trouble, and get caught in their own production, sometimes making it worse with the help of the supporting cast who are gossiping about the story.
There are ways to avoid writing your own script, not allowing yourself to star in it, and extricating yourself from the stage with grace. It takes a great deal of courage to do so. Some thoughts:
Encourage continual feedback loops of trusted advisors who will actively observe you and are willing to tip you off to anything you are doing to create drama. You might be surprised at how subtle behaviors are being watched and if left unchecked, can create a lot of drama at work. For instance, leaders who raise their voice just a touch can be labelled volatile if they’re working with particularly sensitive individuals. Leaders who express impatience can often get ahead of their followers, creating a confused set of dynamics within their team and beyond. Encourage and listen to this small group of individuals you trust to give you feedback so you aren’t blind sighted by your own untoward behaviors.
Be honest and transparent – with caution. You’ve heard this: in the absence of information, people make stuff up. That’s where drama begins. As much as possible, push yourself to be honest and transparent about who you are, what matters to you, how you lead, and what you expect of others (and stay in integrity on all of those). Letting people know a little about your private life (and getting to know a little about theirs) forges bonds, but over-sharing delicate personal information can create drama if what you’ve shared isn’t in sync with the social order around you. Some amount of transparency about you is great; but sometimes too much information can create an equally damaging drama.
Accept responsibility for your role in a drama. Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself what role you might have in any new drama that is unfolding in your organization. It’s amazing how often leaders create the scene and then deny (to themselves and others) that they were responsible for any part of it. When you accept responsibility for what’s going on as well as have a willingness to turn it around in your second act, you have a chance at redeeming your humanity and other’s trust if you move ahead and take action to mend the situation. There is great learning there for you to become an even better leader if you accept your role and learn something that can transform you.
Leaders can create their own drama sometimes. Having a system for feedback, and being honest and transparent (with caution) can keep drama from unfolding. If it does, recognize your role in it and take action to regain the trust of your organization.