No matter who you are, or how much you do all the right things from a leadership perspective, there will be days . . . oh yes, you know those days. Someone disappoints you, or undermines what you thought was a collective effort, or otherwise blindsides you with their actions. The days when friends and family can take one look at you and, without you even uttering a word, instantly respond with “Wow, bad day?” Yeah, those days.
Those are the days where all the waxing philosophical about leadership goes out the window and you come face to face with a decision. Who are you really going to be as a leader? Will you respond in kind to the offending action, or will you choose to take the high road. It may seem like an easy decision as you sit at your computer and read this; it likely will be far less clear or easy when you are in the middle of said situation.
And yet, someone has to be the grown-up and keep things in perspective . . . and if you accepted a leadership position in an organization that you care deeply about, that should probably be you. Because here’s the deal. No matter how someone else acts, you get to decide how you will respond. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” A similar, although far less eloquent, sentiment straight out of my rural roots says “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get muddy and the pig likes it.”
Regardless of the words, you get the picture. It is hard to stand tall and stoop at the same time. And no matter how it might feel in the moment, people will notice and remember how you respond. Your people. The ones you want to trust and follow you.
Now let me be clear. I am not suggesting that taking the high road means you simply ignore or become a doormat for someone’s actions. Accountability is part of your responsibility too, and you can choose to hold someone accountable in a transparent, clear and professional matter. Really, you can. Check your frustration at the door, look the individual in the eye, calmly state how you plan to respond, and then move on.
As leaders, our job would certainly be easier if everyone treated us the way we want to be treated. But then, I’m guessing most of us didn’t get into this job because we were looking for easy. Easy is nice when you can get it, but impact is what drives most leaders, and you rarely reach the point of impact without a few bumps along the way.
The best way to handle the bumps? Stand tall and lead on.