When I feel impatient or annoyed, it is often a signal to me that a “should” is at play in the way that I am evaluating a person or situation. In my mind, I have decided that something is not happening the way I think it should be happening – and therefore it is wrong.

Here’s an example:

I recently led a meeting in which the topic to be covered was what I would consider to be big picture and requires relatively long-term thinking (i.e. a strategic topic). At this particular strategic meeting, the topic at hand was: How do we grow sales in 2018?

As we began to talk, one of the team members asked, “Speaking of social media, what is the timeline on the website launch?” The team thus began discussing the timeline and a few other related details (“the launch is scheduled to happen in the next couple of weeks – in 2017” or “this is still what’s needed” or “the progress is as follows” – you get the point).

I found myself becoming impatient. Feeling slightly annoyed, I said, “Can we please stay on topic? This is a strategic meeting.”

The room got quiet and both team members looked at me a little sheepishly and said, “Yes.”

After we left the meeting, I began to think about the interaction because at the moment the room got quiet, I knew that my irritation and annoyance had been negatively felt by the members of the team. As a leader, my goal is to engage the team in a way that is both challenging and supportive. So when I have an interaction that does not feel right to me, I start to analyze what happened and how I can learn from it; effectively, I “check myself.”

Here’s the breakdown:

What I was thinking…

My ideal (we should…)

  • Discuss ideas for increasing sales in 2018
  • Focus discussion on 2018, not 2017
  • Stay at the idea level versus the tactics level
  • Discuss in a way that I understand, relate to, and can follow – immediately
  • Be self-aware and self-managed; do not ask non-relevant questions

The reality (both actual AND perceived)

  • Discussed execution details for a 2017 project (fact)
  • Discussed tactics versus ideas (fact) about that project
  • Discussed non-relevant information to the topic of the meeting (perception)
  • Team members not self-aware or self-managed enough to not bring up non-relevant conversation (perception)

How I was feeling…

Gap – the amount of negative energy I felt due to the gap between the ideal (what should have happened) and the real (what was happening)

And then what I did…

Action – I asked the group to get back on track… in a way that showed that I was both annoyed and frustrated and had an edge of condescension (“This is a strategic meeting.”).

And the result… (I know this because I talked to them)

Result – The group “felt” my annoyance and frustration and received my redirection as a scolding versus a challenge or positive redirection.

Why was it important for me to go through the steps of “checking myself?” It’s important because it actually teaches us about ourselves and our tendencies as it applies to our leadership. It’s paramount because each interaction provides us with an opportunity to learn and grow.

In regards to this particular situation, this is how the learning played out:

What I did not know…

For the team member who asked about the website, her ask was connected to her idea about how to increase sales in 2018. Because I shut down the conversation, she did not share her idea because she needed the information that she asked for to continue to create a picture of the idea in her head.

What did I learn?

When I feel annoyed or impatient, I need to stop, check myself and ask… “What is the ‘should’ that I am projecting onto the team/person?” And then, “what incorrect assumptions have I made?”

What will I do differently next time?

Next time, when I begin to feel annoyed or irritated, I will quickly capture the “should” (in other words, my un-communicated expectation) on paper, and then ask a question to challenge my assumption, like “Jill, can you tell us a little more about why you are asking about the website launch? I know you are thinking about something and was just wondering how it is connected to our 2018 objective.”

As a leader, I like this approach because it affords my team member the benefit of the doubt; I assume that he/she is on target and I just don’t understand yet. I also ask a question that will help us all learn versus taking a judgment-based stance that shuts down the learning.