I recently met with a new coaching client, a leader of an NGO, to better understand her leadership challenges. I had been asked by her Board to support her in hitting the goals and milestones she had been repeatedly missing in the past year. The conversation ended up being mostly her one-sided rant about how hard she was working, how little respect she got, how toxic the work environment was and how incompetent everyone else was around her.
OK, I get we all need to vent from time to time and blow off steam. The daily pressures of trying to meet goals and satisfy multiple stakeholders especially in complex, uncertain and under-resourced environments can add up. Left unexamined and uncommunicated however, the little ‘complaints’ can turn into pretty big resentments over time.
Resentment comes with a belief that you’ve been treated or assessed unfairly. It also very often comes with a belief that it’s not your fault; the fault lies somewhere else or with someone else. Once you’re caught in the emotion of resentment, it is really hard to shake. It starts to permeate all of your interactions. It gets in the way of good decision making. I liken rising resentment to the metaphor of the frog in the boiling water. You don’t realize you’re in hot water until it’s too late. You don’t realize how resentful you’ve become until it spills over into other areas of your life and makes a mess of your relationships, interactions with others, and clarity in thinking.
The most astounding part of the conversation with my new client was that at no time did she ask the question: ‘what’s my responsibility in this matter?’ or ‘how has my leadership approach gotten us to this point?’ or ‘what have I missed or mis-managed here?’ In my experience this kind of self- reflection and inquiry is a fundamental leadership competency. And, if you’re the leader, your missed promises ARE your responsibility.
It’s true that you can’t control all the circumstances you find yourself in. The circumstances aren’t necessarily your fault. But, if you’re the leader, isn’t it your job to communicate those circumstances with the stakeholders and discuss a new way forward? And to have those conversations as often as necessary until you get the issue(s) resolved? Isn’t it also your job to manage your emotions? To be self-aware enough to realize that your communications and actions are being negatively impacted by, in this example, unexpressed resentments?
And, yes, that is definitely easier said than done! It takes a lot of awareness. It takes courage to speak up. It takes persistence. It takes attention and discipline to change whatever behaviors aren’t serving your desired outcomes (yours and your team’s). It takes vulnerability to ask for help. Hey, no one said leadership is easy!
I eventually had my client write down all the things she was resentful at and, after a heartfelt discussion, we created a plan for her to have all the missing conversations to get her fully engaged and back on track. You might try doing the same thing. If you notice you’re caught by resentment, NOW would be a good time to address it before it keeps you from the results you most care about.