Don’t React, Respond
How do you handle anger management in leadership? How should you react to stressful situations? When should you stand up and put your foot down? I cannot tell you every specific time you should. But I can tell you this: You should do it rarely, and almost never off the cuff.
Mature leaders are slow to anger—very, very slow. They are measured, deliberate, and calm. They do not allow themselves to flippantly react to the “facts” they face because they know the facts are often wrong, partly wrong, or simply someone else’s perception.
The Right to React
Even though I have always thought of myself as a calm and collected individual, my journey as a leader started with me being a bit explosive—at least at times. Trained as a physician, the culture I knew was top-down: “I tell you and you do it.” That model of leadership was drilled into my head.
This is what I observed: You listen to me. I am entitled to expose to you my raw emotions at any time like a wild growling gorilla. Why? Because I am the professor, and you are the college student. I am the resident, and you are the medical student. I am the attending physician, and you are the resident. I am the doctor, and you are the nurse. Simply because I have the position, and you don’t.
And so I entered into my own leadership roles with this mentality. I came from an extremely authoritative approach—from a culture where the boss had the right to react and humiliate. Where it was the norm for him to explode without warning, to show his teeth and snarl, to put people in their places. It was the unfortunate practice for the boss to indulge in his status by not restricting his emotions.
I am ashamed to admit it. But yes, I yelled, I intimidated, I even told one of the nurses closest to me when I was training her, “My goal is to make you cry.” What I meant at the time, was that I wanted to put her under so much pressure to mold her that it would likely make her cry. I thought I was doing her a favor. After all, that’s how I was trained. (I am so thankful this nurse, Kyletha, is still with me today. She reminds me of it often, and we both laugh—thanking God that I’ve done some personal growth since then.)
Managing My Response
Two months ago, something happened to me, and I responded differently. And suddenly, I was reminded how far along I’ve come. I want to share this with you, not to boast of my progress, but to reveal an area where I had tremendous failure in my leadership. And to demonstrate how I was able to improve. So can you, and so can the people on your team.
It was November 5th, 2013—a Tuesday morning around 7:45am. I was driving from Fort Worth to Dallas with two of my marketing/writing partners (Andria and Jen) to the Platform Conference with Michael Hyatt. This was the last day of an amazing conference about sharing your vision with your tribe.
During the 50-mile drive, I got a call from the Surgery Center where I perform colonoscopies saying, “We have a patient here. He drank the prep for the colonoscopy and is ready for the procedure. But we know you will not be here today. What do want us to do?” The day before, I told my team and the Surgery Center to confirm that all my patients were canceled as I had requested a few weeks earlier because I would be at a conference. So, what happened?
Normally, a call like this would immediately get me into a boisterous rage as to why the staff did not cancel my cases as I requested. And now we have a patient having gone through the unpleasant colonoscopy prep and there is no doctor to do the procedure. But I didn’t explode. I did feel a bit of a fire beginning to flare in my gut, but I quieted it down very quickly. I actually hardly felt it.
I told the nurse, “I am happy to come right after I am finished at the conference at 1 pm. Or if the patient wants to wait til the next day, he can drink clear liquids only and I will meet him there tomorrow.” Both options obviously were not ideal for the patient, but I thought this would be the best solution. She said, “Okay, I will tell him.”
As soon as I hung up, I knew this was a major oversight. People usually don’t want to be there, don’t want to take off work, and don’t want to drink the prep. It is absolutely poor form and extremely unprofessional that he would be scheduled on a day that I am not there. “How could this have happened?” I wondered.
A few minutes lapsed, and the nurse called me back and left a message because I was on another call. She said, “Dr. Saade, the patient is very, very mad. Call me back.” So now I was stuck. I could either have a livid patient on my hands who was obviously mistreated because of someone’s severe misjudgment or incompetence. Or I must miss the last day of the conference, which I had been looking forward to for months.
The “old me” would call the lady who does our scheduling or the manager and give them a piece of my mind for making such an error. But not this time. I think I had learned a lesson. However, I was still pretty anxious about it.
Andria, seeing me visibly perturbed said, “You know we can go back.” As I thought about it, I calmly said, “No, I want us to finish this conference.” But in my mind, I wondered if that was the right decision. So I picked up the phone and called our manager, just to inquire—after all, we have done this for about 8 years, and this has never happened before.
She did not pick up. We were still on the road. And now I was feeling really bad about the situation—but surprisingly calm about it. I was surprising myself actually. As instructed by the nurse who left the message, I was getting ready to call her to hear for myself how mad the patient was and discuss our options. As I was about to call, she called me back.
She said, “Dr. Saade, there was a big mix up in the paperwork. This patient is actually not your patient.” Being on edge as I was, it did not quite register. I said, “What did you say?”
She explained. It turned out that this was not even my patient. There was another doctor there, a GI specialist, who was supposed to be performing this patient’s procedure. But they mistakenly placed my name on this poor guy’s chart. The patient thought he would not be getting his test done and was upset, and I thought my team made a big error. I just smiled and told the nurse, “Okay, great. No worries.” And in my mind I thought, “I can’t believe they just did this to me for the last 15 minutes.”
Honor People, Even When They Fail
It is not often that as a leader you are proud of yourself. Most of the time, we struggle. We struggle to have a better vision, or to do a better job with our team. But I have to say, I was proud of how I responded (or did not react) in this scenario. Even though I was concerned, and maybe a bit anxious about what to do, I did not react. I was not rough, loud, or demonstrating my status as a doctor, as the “old me” would have done.
This is a classic example of how we should respond as leaders. And I immediately knew this would be an incident I would always remember and share.
So friend, don’t be quick on the trigger like I used to be. Be patient. Most of the time when you find out what is going on, there is a good explanation for it. And even when there’s not, remain calm. Be deliberate. Think. Be dignified and respectful. Honor people, even when they fail or falter.
Question: What techniques do you employ to keep yourself from reacting negatively?
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