“You always sound so positive and upbeat when you’re talking to your team,” the gentleman across the hall from my office said.
“Well, thanks,” I replied, “It’s something I’ve learned to focus on.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, a few months ago, I was having a bad day and I let that negative vibe come across when talking to one of them,” I said. “I immediately knew I’d made a mistake. I could tell that it bothered her a lot, and my suspicion was confirmed later that day. It was my fault.”
“What did you say on the call?” he asked.
“I huffed,” I said.
“You what?” he asked.
“I huffed. She told me something I didn’t want to hear, that something hadn’t sold yet or something like that, and I huffed,” I said.
“Well, that’s not exactly a tongue lashing,” he said.
“Sure it is,” I said. “You know how a picture is worth a thousand words, well so’s a huff. Here is what it says: ‘I don’t like this bad news you’re delivering to me, and I think you are the cause of it. If you would just work harder, or follow my brilliant directives more closely, everything would work just fine!’”
“It says all that?” he asked.
“Well, that’s what I think was heard, even though that’s not what I meant. I meant to say that I was frustrated at the situation, but not her. That we were in this boat together and I did not separate product creation from sales, so let’s either figure out if any changes need to be made to the former and, if not, let’s be patient about the latter.”
“So why didn’t you just say that instead of huffing?” he asked.
“Because I messed up.” I said. “I had a very poor leadership moment. I’m sure I’ll have more of them, but the goal is to have less, and that the ones you do have are continually less serious.”
“That sounds like a plan. But doesn’t your approach require you to be a little phony — all upbeat even when something is bothering you?” he asked.
“That’s certainly a fair question,” I said. “A large part of being a good leader is saying certain things you might not otherwise want to say or not saying things you really want to get off your chest. I think the point is that it’s not good to express general and ill-defined displeasure or negativity. If something needs to be addressed, do it like an adult with real words and have some possible solutions ready to offer. Maybe that’s the way to go. Anyway, my goal, as I said, is to do less huffing and be a force of positivity.”
“So how are you coming along?” he asked.
“I think I’m getting better. How do I sound on my calls?” I asked.
“Pretty good,” he laughed.
“Thanks,” I said.