A colleague once shared with me that being an entrepreneur is 10 percent strategy, 10 percent execution and 80 percent managing the drama – trying to keep your self-doubt in check. In my observation, the same is true for leadership. The difference is that the 80 percent drama often is split between managing our own drama and not being sucked into the drama of those around us.
If drama is sucking up too much of your life at work, here are two ways you can dial it down.
1. Manage Your Ego.
There’s an expression that your ego is not your amigo. Marshall Goldsmith identified five behaviors that successful leaders demonstrate in ways that go from positive to destructive:
- Winners love winning. It’s hard to stop because it’s been programmed since we were in school that coming out ahead (earning that A) is important.
- Adding too much value. All those little “Can I make a suggestion?” comments become orders as you become more senior.
- “I already knew that.” You don’t have to prove that you know more than someone else.
- Passing too much judgment: How often do we complain about the performance of others? Help more, and judge less.
- Being “super smart”: When you’re really smart, it makes it hard to deal with “normal” people. But they’re not the odd one out; you are.
Here’s what you can do:
- Start to become aware of when you use phrases like, “Yes, but” or, “I know,” or, “No, but however.” All of these small words are your ego needing to prove to someone that you are right, or smart, or special. Pay attention to when it happens. Then…
- Reflect on your patterns. When does this language come up for you? What triggered it? What does it tell you about yourself and your insecurities?
- Begin to create a new intention for yourself. Prior to meetings where you know your ego may be triggered, become conscious of how you want to present yourself (e.g., “I am open-minded. I listen before speaking.”).
- After each interaction, reflect on what worked, refine and repeat.
Over time, you will find that you are less likely to fall into your ego traps that generate drama.
2. Stop Being a Martyr.
One of the ways that we are sucked into drama as team leaders is by shouldering the burden of feedback all on our own. The view that leaders should be the only ones providing feedback to direct reports comes from an archaic view of management that is grounded in a military model of command and control. Today, as organizations moved to flatter and more matrixed structures, leaders need to start delegating more aspects of their traditional roles to their team members, including the ability to give each other feedback.
Most leaders underestimate their ability to drive a culture of shared expectations around performance within their teams. Too many leaders think of corporate culture as owned by the top of the house when, in fact, every team has a culture that is created, in large part, by what each team leader tolerates and demands. If your team is throwing drama onto your desk, it’s time to step back and evaluate how you’re enabling that culture.
To shift the culture of your team to be drama-free, start by getting everyone on the team to agree to a set of working methods. By doing so, you’ll be creating a common platform that will allow the team to talk about performance expectations together – whether you’re in the room or not.
First, create a shared vision for your team. What does the team want to be known for? What will be your legacy? What will people be saying about this team? Draft a simple, clear statement that captures the essence of your team vision.
From there, ask your team:
- What behaviors will support our vision?
- What behaviors will get in the way of achieving this vision?
Use this input to develop a final list of four to six key behaviors that will help drive the team forward. Don’t use more than six; people won’t remember them.
Now, it’s time for the rubber to hit the road. To make the behaviors “sticky,” start encouraging people to think about them constantly. Here are three ways to do that:
- Run a group feedback exercise where everyone shares feedback with each other (including the team leader). The feedback should have two components:
- A behavior that the person is demonstrating well and a suggestion on how he or she could continue to demonstrate that behavior to enrich the team
- A behavior that the person could demonstrate more and a suggestion on what he or she could start doing that would benefit the team
Notice how positive these feedback statements are? This process is about moving forward, not dredging up the bad behaviors of the past.
- Call out behaviors regularly. Use your team meetings to encourage peer-to-peer recognition for people who are regularly demonstrating the team behaviors. It doesn’t have to be long and lengthy; just be consistent about doing it.
- Start each one-on-one by providing one piece of feedback on what the person is demonstrating well and one thing you would like to see more of. Have him or her do the same for you; in the age of collaboration, feedback is a shared responsibility, not just something exclusively for leaders to deliver.
Emotional drama at work comes in many forms. As leaders, we need to recognize where our internal drama is affecting our work and, at the same time, guide our team to dial down the drama so that we can all be happier, more productive and drama-free in the workplace.