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Mike Figliuolo

Management

Hotheads and Karma

Stay cool. It all works out.

Published: Monday, November 27, 2023 - 12:03

It’s not worth getting upset over little things (or even big things) at work. Being hotheaded gets you nowhere. Just know that karma eventually works everything out.

Perspective and patience: It’s a challenge, especially in a lightning-fast business world filled with Type A’s, Cro-Magnons, and Machiavellian punks (read The Prince for more detail on this last point). It’s enough to make a sane person lose their mind. (And for the insane, like myself, it means we have to attend therapy more frequently than we already do.)

Bad behavior happens every day. There’s classic micromanagement where your superior is giving detailed instructions on how you should adjust your desk chair. There’s Cro-Magnonesque screaming and berating of subordinates who are doing nothing but their best while market forces stall their efforts. There are the up-and-comers who behave like the fastest way to the top involves stepping on the backs, heads, and faces of those around them. And my favorite, the office politics and intrigue that would impress even the most conniving CIA and KGB veterans of the Cold War.


Do you really want to have that instant vengeance attached to your name?

You confront these and other onerous acts daily. So what can you do? You have a few choices. You can play their game. You can get so bent out of shape that you look like a bag of Rold Gold pretzels. You can focus on what matters and, like Jason Lee on My Name Is Earl, believe in karma. Let’s dissect these.

Playing their game
Sure, this approach offers instant gratification. They scream; you scream. They micromanage; you micromanage. They drag their knuckles; you do the same. Unfortunately, this can be very satisfying in the near term. When you get screamed at, it’s very fulfilling to go “kick the dog” (a euphemism for abusing your people).

Why? It helps reestablish the power equation. When you’re berated, you are effectively powerless in the face of the onslaught. As humans we seek equilibrium, and when we lose power in one situation we seek to regain it in another. This can manifest itself as berating your team, taking it out on friends and family, or in the most extreme form, kicking the dog (literally). If I need to elaborate on why this approach is dangerous, call me. You need help.

You can also play the game of the up-and-comers. The problem is, they’re better at it than you are because they’ve practiced it longer. Your team and colleagues will see right through it. It might get you ahead in the short term, which is problematic because those rewards reinforce the belief that this is a winning strategy. But longer term, no one will work with you because no one trusts you. Once again, if I need to elaborate, seek help.

Get bent
Another strategy is to accept the behavior and adopt the “woe is me” victim approach. Do nothing but bellyache. You can internalize the behavior to the point that it affects your self-esteem and your health. It becomes the subject of watercooler griping and eventually poisons both you and the organization. Prescription medications even begin to enter the equation (or, even worse—nonprescription “medications” to eliminate the stress). Once again, not really a viable strategy. This one tends to shorten your life span.

Focus and karma
This is the hardest approach because there is no near-term, instant-gratification payoff. It requires setting aside all the bad behavior and focusing on what you actually get paid for. You also have to become The Human Crapshield for your team and co-workers. If you’re in a customer-facing business, figure out how to serve them better. (Hello, airlines? Are you listening?) If you’re in a “support” function, go support your internal customer better than ever. Figure out how to have an impact and focus on those tasks maniacally, despite the exogenous factors that are driving you up the wall.

A funny thing happens when you spend more of your time focused on important stuff: You have less time and energy to focus on the stupidity and bad behaviors. You lower your risk of being hotheaded and engaging in a career-limiting move. (And yes, there have been occasions when I wish I’d adopted this approach but instead “played their game.” It didn’t work out so well.)

“But Mike, what about the bad actors? When do they get theirs?” Patience, Grasshopper. That’s all I can say. It all comes out in the wash at some point. They play their game so long that eventually people see them for what they are, and teams depart, or they end up “pursuing other opportunities.” Bad things eventually happen.

It’s a leap of faith, I know. The thing is, do you really want to have that instant vengeance attached to your name? Is that how you want to be known professionally? If the answer is a resounding “no”—and I hope it is—then you have no other choice but to continue doing the right things and letting the world sort out the rest. That’s the great thing about a market economy: People eventually vote with their feet, and the invisible hand of the market eventually reaches out and smacks the Cro-Mag across his bony, protruding forehead.

Be patient. Focus on the right outcomes. Protect your team. Only emulate the behaviors you want to be known for. It’ll all work out in the end.

Published Nov. 1, 2023, in thoughtLEADERS Brief on LinkedIn.

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About The Author

Mike Figliuolo’s picture

Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo is the author of The Elegant Pitch (Weiser, 2016) and One Piece of Paper (Jossey-Bass, 2011), and co-author of Lead Inside the Box (Weiser, 2015). He’s also the managing director of thoughtLEADERS LLC, a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.