Leadership Explosion – Tough Teamwork People Skills Moment
by Kate Nasser |
There’s an old expression that I recently heard again, “Don’t walk into the middle of a firing squad.”
Have you ever been in a room with other team members when the leader explodes with disapproval at some of them but not you? What was your reaction? How did you feel? Did you say anything? Did your decision affect your subsequent teamwork?
Would you say anything if you agreed with the substance of the leader’s comments? Would you if you disagreed with the substance of the leader’s comments? A leadership explosion and your reaction can present a tough teamwork and people skills (soft skills) moment.
As I thought about this, I remembered a time in graduate school when something like this happened. The professor was a gruff old curmudgeon. Perhaps he believed that being rough produced better learning. I didn’t agree yet his gruff manner didn’t bother me. He was fair in grading, clear when he taught, and didn’t play favorites or games behind your back. I wouldn’t want him over for a fun party yet I could deal with his teaching a couple of courses.
For one assignment he had us in separate teams of 4, each developing a project for presentation to the whole class. It was presentation night. The first team up was totally unprepared and did a miserable job. It truly seemed they had put very little effort into it and we learned very little. The professor lit into them for their poor job. They looked stunned. Silence. Then Pat, a student in the audience, started to make tangible suggestions on how the presentation could improve. Billy, one of the students on the presentation team, tore Pat apart verbally. Later without the professor present, Billy made verbal threats that he would get even with Pat’s team during their presentation.
Do you think Pat made the right decision to speak or did Pat walk into the middle of a firing squad? Would you speak at all and if so what would you say? Would you be concerned about repercussions from the leader or the team members?
It would be ideal if the professor had used less emotion to reduce the team’s emotional reaction. Yet in business there are times when the leadership explodes in frustration over poor performance, missed opportunities, and resistance to change. At the same time it is very difficult for some people to think clearly and logically when they feel under attack. Pat was not attacking Billy. The tone was positive and forward focused. Yet Billy couldn’t see that in the heat of emotion. It is quite possible that he was dumping the anger he felt toward the professor onto Pat. So what would you do?
Some possible approaches:
- Wait for the leader or those under attack to say something so you can read their emotional states before responding.
- Ask those under attack if they are ready for suggestions on how to make it better and offer to jump in and help.
- Ask the leader if you might lend perspective on how to make things better or for a short break so that all can gather their thoughts.
Do any of these make sense to you? What are the pros/cons? Perhaps some other approach?
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, works on tough teamwork, people skills (soft skills), and issues of interpersonal dynamics in corporations and government agencies. See http://katenasser.com.customers.tigertech.net for workshop information.