Whatever you think of David Cameron, he probably revealed more about himself in Parliament recently than he would like when he reacted to a jibe from the opposition benches about his mother. In response, he told Jeremy Corbyn that he (or rather his mother) would say that Corbyn needed to “put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem”. It may have been what Corbyn deserved, but such a personal attacks exposes a disdainful side to Cameron’s thinking that many would consider unattractive.
What this illustrates is the potential that all people, but especially those with leadership responsibilities, have for the ‘mask to slip’ and show ourselves in a bad light. Under pressure, i.e. when it counts, we can revert to our worst tendencies. In consequence, we can lose authority, influence, and even respect.
These unconscious tendencies can appear at any time. Many people when presented with a problem immediately jump into solution mode. Stopping solving other people’s problems is one of the bigger challenges managers face as they progress through the ranks.
Others become automatically defensive and, like Cameron, attack back; or find a reason why the problem or criticism is not their fault. Both are uncomfortable for the other people involved and make harder to get a positive result from the situation. Still others will take the blame on their own shoulders and over-apologise, go on a ‘guilt trip’ or otherwise beat themselves up in some way. Some will even ‘lose it’ altogether and move into ‘rant mode’ so that people then tip-toe around them for fear of setting them off.
Becoming conscious of your tendencies is a first step in becoming more effective in the world of leadership. An excellent manager I know confessed that he knew he could be a bully. He had to catch himself when he felt himself moving into bullying mode, although there were times when it was very appropriate to have a go at someone. This was especially true when dishonourable motives had been at play.
So, what is your worst tendency when under pressure?
The more conscious we are of how we behave, the better the leadership we can provide.