“True champions singularly focus on their mission when they are on stage performing. Nothing detracts them from performing and delivering their best, no matter what else is going on in their lives elsewhere; nothing!”—Michael Phelps (winner of 16 medals) at 2012-Olympics interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan.
The reason this quote is apt for many of my clients working with me is because so many of them come to me with excuses about their miscues at work, stemming from something else going on in their lives. Just the other day a senior executive—my recent client—at one of the premier Valley companies called me with great urgency to tell me how his boss had chastised him for an improper email he had sent to one of his subordinates and how that quickly escalated into an HR nightmare, putting my client smack at the center of the controversy!
In view of the seriousness and urgency of the situation I asked him to come and have a meeting with me to sort things out.
When he told me the full details of this episode I realized that he was trying to rein in one of his subordinates—a senior manager herself—when she started misbehaving in a meeting my client had called. She was abusive to others in that meeting with personal attacks on colleagues, even on my client, her direct boss. In retaliation my client sent a scathing email about her own mistakes at various times, with copies of that email to many people in his management ecosystem!
This untoward reaction and thoughtless action on the part of my client quickly escalated into a crisis team from his HR department trying to calm things down. When I asked him why he reacted this way and what would have been the correct and appropriate course of action, he was mortified when he realized that the correct course of action was well within his grasp, and it would have not only prevented this episode, but would have straightened out the insubordination problem that he was facing, with the right leadership intervention from him and from him alone!
His excuse why this happened was that he was facing some challenges at home and that his kids were being disciplined at their schools for misbehavior. He told me that if things had been “normal” on the home front, this episode never would have happened.
This is when I showed my client the Michel Phelps quote, which I had, by then, printed since hearing from him and knowing that he would be coming for a meeting. He stared at that quote for a few minutes and realized its import in the context that he was now facing. After some discussion about what he might have done differently my client acknowledged that if he had compartmentalized his two worlds and focused on his work mission while at work, he would have created a different—and the right—outcome for himself and for his organization.
This type of miscue happens often enough with others that, that I thought, a prescriptive blog would serve those who fall victim to such situations. Here is my guidance to those who want to learn how to prevent such missteps at work (AND at home!):
- When facing a situation that is going in a wrong direction focus all your energies in prevention rather than on your knee-jerk reaction to it.
- Take a deep breath and establish the ambit of the context the situation is creating. If it at work then forget your home problems, and vice versa.
- Shift your mode from emotional to rational. Analyze the situation calmly, find out few avenues that will de-escalate what is spiraling out of control, and quickly take charge to show your leadership, not just your power and authority.
- Isolate the trouble element and create a remedy to assuage the situation, aiming for the detection of the root-cause and its elimination. This may include taking out the antagonist that is stirring up the dust (of course, using the HR guidelines and involving HR, even your boss).
- Consult your immediate superior and apprise them of what is happening. Bring in HR if this is a personnel matter and listen to their guidance as appropriate.
- If you slipped up in your performance (such as poor quality of your deliverables) immediately acknowledge to your boss and tell them what happened and why. This way they can support you—even back you up.
- Consult an outside expert if you do not want to betray your lack of skill (to others in your organization) in dealing with a situation that may appear foreign to you.
In the case of my client I reminded him of these steps and asked him to have a follow-up meeting with his boss. In that meeting he acknowledged his missteps and assured his boss that the right course of action was within his grasp, but he failed himself and others in not executing it with the leadership that is expected of him. At least for now his boss seems to have reconciled to giving him another chance! If you encounter such a situation where your work performance is threatened by your distracted mind, this blog may help; read it and heed it!