I just returned to my office from having breakfast at a diner with one of our local emergency services leaders. The gentleman had called me a few days ago to set up a date and time; and quite frankly, I was not looking forward to it.
The individual had assumed the top position in his organization over one year ago and had become bogged down in internal feuding with several of his assistants. We had already met several times and shared dozens of phone calls. These calls and meetings usually took place during or in the middle of the latest "crisis." After a few of these sessions, it became apparent that he became extremely defensive at the slightest hint of criticism and would get so angry that he would say things that fueled the dissention and just made things worse. In addition, he usually felt horribly about the things that he shouted out in a rage. When he told me some of the things he had said in response to comments made by his staff, I cringed. I also found that when he called me right after slamming the door and leaving the building and the argument behind him, that our discussions were pretty much a waste of time while he was still angry. I would frequently say that I was busy and would ask him if we could talk or meet later that night or the next day. And, invariably, we had a calmer and more productive discussion about what took place.
It also became apparent that his staff were purposely "pushing his buttons" in an almost sadistic fashion. My friend would almost always take the bait and react negatively to the great delight of a few of his staff.
This went on for many months and at times became annoying because of the amount of time it took me away from other things. After a while, it became apparent that this individual would never succeed as a leader unless he changed his behavior and how he responded to controversy. I also encouraged him to seek professional help for anger management. We developed a few scenarios in advance of planned events where he felt he would be challenged and analyzed how he should react. It also became apparent that some of his most talented people were also some of his biggest problem people. However, he really did care and was determined to improve.
He started to have some successes and a few relapses; but generally, the tide seemed to be turning. When he called me the other day, I thought, "Oh no, here we go again."
When we met for breakfast, he was very happy and positive over some recent successes and interactions. I asked him what had changed; and he said that when he could feel himself starting to get angry, he would ask if the discussion could be continued at a later date. During the interim, he would think things through from both sides and maybe talk over the current situation with his wife or someone else that he trusts. He also started to publicly commend staff members for good work and successes, which he admits he did not do very often before that. He also indicated he had read two books that I had recommended to him on leadership and read a third one that he had discovered on his own bookshelf that he had purchased and never read.
Overall, our 45 minutes were upbeat and positive, a refreshing change from the past. He thanked me for helping him, which made me realize that the time we spent was actually extremely productive. Not only did this young leader turn things around, his entire organization is doing better.