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The Whole Human

How drama can accelerate your leadership growth

Many people believe workplace issues are distinct from personal issues. However, if you pay attention to your family dynamics, you’ll see many parallels. Both family dynamics and workplace dynamics offer many of the same opportunities for personal and leadership growth.

For example, I traveled to Boston a few weeks ago to attend a convention. I called my mother several hours after landing and getting settled in. I expected her to be happy and grateful to hear from me. Instead, I got chewed out.

“Why did you wait so long to call?” she asked.

You see, she had heard about Southwest’s engine blowing out a window and almost sucking a woman out of the plane. Naturally, my worrywart mother assumed the woman sucked out of the plane was me.

In the past, I have avoided these kind of family phone calls while on trips. It seems that, when I’m gone, there’s always a fire to put out or some concern that must be handled now.

As a consultant, I also see avoidance used as a workplace coping mechanism. Bosses avoid difficult performance conversations, executives avoid talking about upcoming changes, and employees avoid giving bad news to their managers. However, avoidance and withholding often makes the situation much worse than if we would just address the issues at hand and keep everyone updated.

In short, both family systems and workplace cultures experience a fair amount of avoidable drama. We falsely assume that the real problem is drama when, in fact, the problem is the avoidance of addressing the drama square on. We see the elephant, but no one is willing to acknowledge it.

Why we avoid has less to do with character and more to do with awareness and courage. We are unaware that, at the root, we are simply afraid of all the emotions that will surface — theirs and ours.

We are afraid of our own anger. We don’t want to have regrets. Or we may be afraid of hurting their feelings or seeing their surprising reaction. In the end, the root issue is fear of feeling our own emotions.

As a result, we learn how to cope by using avoidance or taking on the other person’s issues so that their worries become our problems. I call this “rescuing” in “Stop Workplace Drama.

In my own personal growth, I’m working on letting others feel what they feel without having to change them to make myself feel better, or without reacting to their personal drama.

I reassured Mom that I was fine. I didn’t take the bait. I didn’t engage in the drama. I was glad that I was able to stand in peace rather than avoid the conversation just so I could have peace.

What good came out of the situation is that I saw some leadership lessons just waiting to be shared.

The leadership lessons

  1. Drama is a part of life at home and at work and requires us to grow personally.
  2. Avoidance is a coping mechanism where we disengage when we use the irresponsible language of blame and excuse-making.
  3. The root problem is not drama, but the fear of strong emotions. We fear our own anger and other people’s emotional reactions.
  4. Sometimes we are the ones others avoid. When we as leaders lead with worry, negativity and doubt, our employees learn to avoid sharing important information.
  5. Growth requires the courage to engage in a conversation even though you already know how it is going to play out. The key is to not take on someone else’s emotional issues.
  6. It takes two to play games unless you’re playing solitaire.

If you are in the midst of some type of drama dynamics, here are some questions to consider:

  • When have I lead a conversation with a scolding?
  • When have I started a dialogue from doubt and worry?
  • What can I do to break the dysfunctional patterns?
  • What kind of results are my conversations driving?

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011), “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015) and “7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice” (Greenbranch 2018). Download “The Bottom Line: How Executive Conversations Drive Results.” Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and at MarleneChism.com.

This article first appeared on SmartBrief. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free e-mail on leadership and communication, among SmartBrief’s more than 200 industry-focused newsletters.

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