I’m thinking about two things this morning — saboteurs…they’re everywhere…and self-regulation – skills that help us navigate tricky situations. Why is this top of mind? I’ll explain…
This past weekend I had the pleasure of catching up with a dear friend, a former client. She’s one smart cookie and it was my privilege to be in her corner as she ascended, gracefully and deservedly into the ranks of executive leadership. In her new role, she reports directly to a company President and sits at the board room table as a peer with vice presidents and chief-executives with all the acronyms – CIO, CFO — you get the idea. For privacy reasons I’ll stop there but my friend (we’ll call her Beth) recently navigated a hurdle so beautifully, I can’t help but share.
Beth was asked to create a new initiative and campaign – to debut in a preview at a senior leaders meeting. The President of the company (let’s call her Angela) had little interest in the topic, the effort – and Beth knew that from the outset. As Beth became more acquainted with her new boss, she teased out the truth early on: Much of Beth’s work will be viewed as ‘task completion’ items only – work that serves to check boxes and note accomplishments for Angela without much investment on her part. Beth’s savvy that way – even though she’s been in her role for less than a year.
When Beth reached out to process a recent disappointment, I was all ears, eager to support her. But let me share a secret first. When I put my “Dr. Vicki” hat on, I do so with confidence because I earned the privilege of the title with my doctoral degree – but the truth? I suspect I benefit from my interactions with clients as much or more as they do from me. Mutual benefits are realized as I peek into their worlds and provide support – any way I can. What draws me in the most, sadly, is the opportunity to sit ringside, to view the capacity we have to injure and submarine one another with hateful words, neglectful, dismissive attitudes. How injurious we can be to others, especially when painful barbs are delivered in gilded wrappers…sweetness on the outside but intent to harm, barely cloaked, within words and behavior. Case studies, everywhere.
Beth’s story? She prepared all weekend for her presentation and reached out to Angela, the President, twice to ask if she wanted to provide input, see a preview before the rollout meeting. No, and no was the reply. Carry on – it’ll be great. That was the message. But you can guess what’s coming. As soon as Beth settled into her seat, rolling out her multi-media presentation, seeking to earn a little buy-in with her trademark warmth and professionalism, Angela had other ideas.
Whether she begrudged Beth the spotlight or felt she needed to put her ‘mark’ on the effort, it’s hard to say, but as soon as she saw Beth winning over the team, delivering ‘the goods’, Angela derailed her. Big time. Beth had done her due diligence – reaching out to gather input from the President – in advance – but was shooed away.
The President Angela interrupted Beth and asked her to conclude her presentation – just as she’d begun – claiming Beth ‘didn’t understand the assignment’. This is not what I asked for. We can’t waste time on this…I wish you’d consulted me first…as she glanced at the agenda and asked Beth to shut down her slide deck so the next ‘victim’…err…presenter could cue up.
You know that expression – all the air was sucked out of a room? That’s how Beth described the environment. All eyes were on her and despite her desire to throw her laptop at Angela and storm out…with a few sassy, retaliatory missiles…she simply shut down, as requested, and said, “Understood, but I have a few questions. Perhaps we can discuss when this meeting concludes.”
Wow – just wow. Beth said it took every ounce of restraint in her body, mind, head, heart, soul to stay in her seat and not bolt out of the room. Nope, she thought. The President looks like a bully and an idiot. I’m not taking the bait. I know better than to publicly shame someone…I’ll speak to her later.
When the meeting concluded, Beth was the first one out the door and Angela, with a much softer voice and affect trailed behind her saying “Oh, I hope you understood my feedback. I need your help with a few other, higher priority things today…not that project” as she touched Beth’s shoulder – like they were friends, commiserating or sharing. “Sure” Beth said, “But I need to get to another meeting now. I have some feedback for you, too, but sometimes it’s best to do that in private. Let me know when you’re available later.”
And there you have it! Emotional regulation, self-regulation at its best. Still, when we spoke, Beth was angry at herself, wondering if she should’ve fought back in the moment, allowing her frustration to be more visible. She was pleased and surprised when I had nothing but praise for her. She showed more professionalism and poise, under pressure, than anyone could hope for and her approach, I’ll speak to you later, my pretty — in reply to the President Angela’s self-serving outreach? Perfect. A sign of an evolved soul. Reacting in the moment is tempting, for many of us, but demonstrating the capacity to receive…without leaping into defense mode? Such a challenging lesson. And it reminded me of this from Andrea Bell:
“Someone who has good emotional self-regulation has the ability to keep their emotions in check. They can resist impulsive behaviors that might worsen their situation, and they can cheer themselves up when they’re feeling down. They have a flexible range of emotional and behavioral responses that are well matched to the demands of their environment”
Oh my, yes. If you’re interested in a quick, high-level reading about the foundational thoughts associated with SRT – self regulation theory – this link provides great resources. A terrific starting point.
More than anything, Beth’s story isn’t unique. Tricky saboteurs can be around every corner but learning who’s worthy of your attention, energy, anger? Even if that person is your boss…your President? Good self-care, I say.
Thank you so much for reading – take care of yourself today.
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