With one or two exceptions during the Fortune 500 company experiences early in my career, I seldom went home from work wishing I could take back anything I had said or could have done anything differently. That changed in a big way when I was recruited to fill an executive position in a small company.
The first few months were OK. I got to learn more about the business, (and that I had failed to realize it was not doing well at all), about the employees, and about myself. I’d never been criticized when I worked in the big companies and in fact had been viewed as a high potential employee. In this new experience, once the hiring honeymoon was over, criticism was abundant.
Don’t get me wrong, for the most part the criticism was valid. My problem was twofold; I wasn’t accustomed to it and my own insecurities (or ambitions) made it worse because I was reminded of things that weren’t going right and worse, I didn’t even know they were wrong. When challenged, it’s so much easier to say you’re aware of an issue and recite the actions you have already taken to remedy it, then to be caught flat footed. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence!
My style of managing by exception and not by the rule was born in this experience. Many evenings on the drive home I would perseverate about the negatives of my day; financial issues, customer issues, employee issues and of course the criticism, from board members and even subtly from lenders. On those evenings, by the time I would pull into the driveway it was likely I had an ‘edge’ about me, not a nice thing to bring home to family.
As fate would have it, a peer from one of my past Fortune 500 employers moved into our neighborhood. Sometimes he and I would sit on a knoll on a Saturday afternoon and exchange our respective war stories from our week at work. He was a jogger and told me that when he ran he re-lived the meetings he had attended that day, recast the words he wished he would have said, fumed at the negative words that may have been said to or about him and, reenacting, took back the words he wished he would have kept to himself. His jogging was the same as my drive home; we both were fixated on events that bruised our egos!
From these experiences I began to recognize that the negatives that had dominated my thoughts at the end of each day were often of no real consequence and the energy spent on perseverating about them was wasted. I think my friend made the same adjustment as I did; he went on to major tours of responsibility including running his employer’s European operations; we both had shed the focus we had had on the ‘half empty’ part of our days. We gained in confidence and maturity, realizing that we were our own worse critics with no further need to rely on others to do so for us.
So what? Measuring each day by its negatives is a destructive practice that diminishes an executive’s effectiveness as a leader and a decision maker. I learned quickly that when I walked a plant floor people responded to my ‘energy.’ In 15 minutes I could influence productivity up 5% for the day or slope it in the opposite direction. The same was true depending on how I interacted with the administrative staff.
I share these experiences with those I mentor…no matter how hard your day, take home the positives and try to leave the negatives behind. The ‘energy’ you wear will affect those around you and they will likely respond in kind.
Read more: Senior Teams: The Positive Power of Conflict