In 2015, between 42% and 52% of employees describe their bosses as manipulative, arrogant, volatile, micromanaging, passive aggressive or distrustful of others, as reported in Hogan Assessment’s aptly article- Leadership: You’re Doing It Wrong.
Wow. I coach leaders every day, and I have to say, I don’t see any of that. That said, they do (sometimes) describe their colleagues that way. Hmmmm. Could it be that MY clients are indeed upfront, humble, easy-going, direct and trusting but the other leaders out there aren’t? Perhaps so. Or could it be that unbeknownst to my clients, 42-52% of their colleagues DO experience them that way? Maybe.
Living “Over Threshold”
Here’s my theory- much of the world (at home AND at work) is “at threshold” these days. In dog agility training, we have begun using that term to describe dogs who are the edge of losing their ability to perform well. For those who have watched great dogs do this sport, they are engaged, excited and eager. This is what great dogs look like “under threshold”.
However, for many dogs (my young, female dog included), it doesn’t take much to drive them from that ideal state to a dog who is not herself. She doesn’t respond to my cues, she doesn’t do what I expect, she makes mistakes she doesn’t normally make. This is what “over threshold” looks like and it is often triggered by pretty normal things—my handling mistakes, something unexpected happening outside the ring or even just the natural hype of competition. Frankly, sometimes I don’t even know!
In the world of work—and life—many of us live our lives “at threshold”. We are engaged, excited and eager to do what we do, and achieve what we achieve. However, it doesn’t take much for us to go “over threshold” – a looming deadline, pressure to increase performance in the next quarter, lack of sleep or any number of normal, everyday situations we may encounter. In leadership, “over threshold” behavior isn’t outrageous or over the top. Not to us anyway. However, it is different than how others usually experience us. And frankly, it impacts those around us.
This is what “over threshold” behavior can look like:
- Telling others what to do, without explaining the why or giving context
- Arguing that our opinion/plan is right and others are wrong, without really listening to other points of view
- Becoming cranky when things don’t go according to plan or when someone makes a mistake
- Worrying we will look incompetent, stupid or disappoint others
- Demanding unrealistic performance or time frames and refusing to negotiate
- Sitting in judgment of other’s mistakes/weaknesses
- Criticizing others behind their backs and/or avoiding difficult conversations
- Losing trust in our reports or colleagues, and creating work arounds, rather than talking them directly about it
Arguably, these behaviors are fairly common, maybe even defensible sometimes. I hear leaders justify these behavior choices due to a lack of control, time, unique circumstances or because of someone else’s behavior/character. And, they aren’t illegal or even unethical reactions. They are normal, human being behavior. And, all of them are perceived by others as (at best) disrespectful and (at worst—you guessed it) manipulative, arrogant, passive aggressive, volatile, micromanaging or distrustful.
What To Do About It
Like me, you’ve probably read about the growing “incivility” in the world. What I see is a whole lot of people, in and outside work, going “over threshold”. And the answer isn’t waiting for the rest of the world to quit screwing up or waiting until “next week” when things slow down or hoping someone will recognize how unfair and flawed they are and start making my life easier. Those things would be wonderful, but I don’t see that world happening any time soon.
My solution comes from the inside out. From gaining the awareness that WE are THEM. From gaining self-compassion and empathy for others and the work/life pressure that impacts us all. When I see my young dog “over threshold”, believe me, sometimes I want to scream at her to just “knock it off”. What I am learning, however, if I work on ME being farther below threshold, I can be way more tolerant when things go wrong.
Are you living “over threshold”? Let me know. I’d love to partner with you to bring you back “under threshold”. Because, after all, we all deserve to perform our best.