Dr. M was shocked when her Department Chair called her into his office and informed her he had received two complaints about her behavior. One report said Dr. M had blown up during a committee, meeting, calling a colleague “stupid” in front of the staff. Secondly, several staff members complained she was showing favoritism to a particular employee. The Department Chair added his own observation that she seemed short tempered and stressed of late. He told Dr. M he needed her to address these issues and highly recommended she find a coach to help her.
Coaching was new for Dr. M. She approached it cautiously since she suspected that everything she said would be reported back to her department chair. Despite her coach’s insistence in their first meeting that what they talked about would stay between them, Dr. M still couldn’t relax. She did finally acknowledge she had been feeling stressed and under the gun managing an understaffed department with a shrinking budget. She commented that she felt she was handling a challenging situation pretty well and blamed one or two disgruntled employees for stirring things up.
As Dr. M talked through the issues with her coach, she began to recognize the small ways in which her stress was manifesting itself—both in her behaviors and her leadership. She could see that simple little issues were having a big impact on others and eroding trust on her team.
Together with her coach, she created a game plan for turning things around.
What You Can Do
You can’t fix a problem if you don’t recognize it as one. The first step for Dr. M was to recognize that the stress was getting toher. It was counterproductive for Dr. M to rationalize, explain and blame. It just kept her from directly addressing her problem.
Remember: There will always be challenges and stresses in any job. What matters is how you handle them.
Outbursts and emotional tirades shake up others. They undermine confidence and trust. Employees become intimated and withhold communication. It is easy to blame your badbehaviors on the mistakes of those below you or the “stupid decisions” of those above you. But ultimately, you pay the price.
Remember: Justifying unprofessional behavior should be your first alert that you may have a problem.
When you feel stressed, it is easy to go for the quick fix or go to those who will get the job done with the least amount of pushback. However, what might start as an attempt at a fast solution, can ultimately result in long term problems. Fairness is extremely important to staff. Employees get hypersensitive when they perceive someone is getting preferential treatment or assignments. Don’t short-circuit your investment in your team because you are too stressed to take the time.
Remember: Taking time actually saves time.
Stress can sneak up on you easily during these tough times of shrinking revenue, budgets, and staffing. It can undermine your ability to cope and respond to the everyday challenges you face. Become aware of your own stress level and make sure you don’t let stress get in your way.
Remember: Control the stress; don’t let it control you.
When stress gets to you:
- Apologize and own any unprofessional behaviors.
- Don’t blame or give excuses.
- Acknowledge stress and challenges.
- Recognize that your own team may be experiencing the same levels of stress in their own jobs.
- Be empathetic.
- Make a commitment to your staff and declare your new intentions.
- Ask for help and feedback along the way.