“Sometimes, she had discovered, you had to walk around the holes in your life, instead of falling into them.” ― Priscilla Cummings
It happens to every leader. For pastors the most vulnerable time is often a Sunday morning when their primary focus is preparing to preach. Other leaders may experience it headed into an important meeting or in the middle of it. It happens to all of us; we get blindsided. An argument or confrontation happens we didn’t see coming, and often it’s inappropriate and in public. Humans have immediate physiological and psychological reactions in these moments. Adrenaline increases, blood rushes, and defense mechanisms kick in.
One of the leadership principles I treasure most is the fact a leader may choose to respond instead of react. While there are moments in life that demand reactions, a child wandering into traffic, for instance, a majority of the issues facing leaders do not demand an immediate reply. Often, when blindsided we respond in emotion, without clarity, and too soon. A reaction means a trigger has been pulled. A response means a well thought out answer is given, even though a trigger has been pulled.
Responding means listening. Responding means seeking to understand before we seek to be understood (Covey). Responding means looking past the manner in which something is communicated to see if there is truth inside of it. Responding means weighing the emotional weight of a moment and deciding whether it is the right time and place to engage. Someone has to be the grownup in the room; it should be the leader. Responding means weighing the words we use in order to protect the mission and our own heart. Responding means refusing to sink to someone else’s level because we voice the first witty thought that comes to our mind. For me, responding means talking it over with Jesus before talking it over with my critic.
Responding means in some cases, doing nothing but listening and then scheduling a meeting for later. Passion is no excuse for poor behavior in a leader or anyone else. Below are five positive outcomes from choosing to respond instead of react:
1. You might learn something. Our critics are sometimes right even if their approach and timing isn't.
2. You may be able to redirect a negative into a positive by turning a toxic moment into a teaching moment…if you keep your head.
3. Poise in the face of chaos always earns the leader credibility.
4. You can minimize the number of people who get hurt in the midst of conflict including innocent bystanders, the person approaching you, and … you.
5. You can reduce the number of times you have to apologize to toxic people. While it's great for learning humility, having to apologize for your own behavior in the face of divisive actions by others, stinks. Eventually, I got weary of needing to apologize to people whose position was not only wrong but also presented in a juvenile manner. However, when my reaction is cynical or cutting it’s also wrong, regardless of whether or not my point is valid. The standard for a leader is high. Apologizing to toxic people will wear you out. I’ve had to eat a ton of words in my life, but never those I didn't speak.
Leadership is difficult. It's true, a leader has to think on their feet. Put the emphasis on "think." When blindsided give yourself some margin for clarity, wisdom, and learning.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1: 19-20)