Trouble

I’ve had a bad week.

Before this week, I was on a hot streak. Sales results were moving in the right direction, and I recently had some valuable exposure to top executives. I was subsequently appointed to chair a new employee retention committee. Everything was going my way, until Trouble tracked me down this past week.

Separately, here in Connecticut, I felt my first earthquake on Tuesday. A 5.8 magnitude quake stuck somewhere in Virginia and I felt the ground move underneath me here in Windsor, Conn. It kind of felt like standing up on a boogie board in a swimming pool. Now, as I write this post, hurricane Irene is threatening to wreak havoc on our entire state sometime in the next 48 hours. “There goes the stock market,” said my nervous wife, who normally has no interest in the stock market. “It’s all over. The world is coming to an end,” a coworker dreadfully prophesied with a sad-looking “oh-well” smirk on his face.

At work this week I unfortunately had to deal with some professional disasters; the type of the difficult issues that managers inevitably (I think) face if they manage long enough. Terrorizing Trouble reared his ugly head in the form of conflict, deceit and even theft. As they say, sometimes when it rains it pours, and when several disasters strike at the same time Trouble tempts me into believing that leading people is hopeless. Are people all up to no good? Is my world coming to an end?

Just when I was about to accept this depressing outlook, I remembered an article I once read in Fortune Magazine. In it, Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, one of the great woman business leaders of our time, said the best advice she ever received was to always assume people have good intentions. Nooyi talked about something I believe deeply, that I need to remind myself of after bad weeks like this one. In my estimation, 95% of the time or more people mean well and want to do a good job at work. The other 5% of the time, leaders will face Trouble in his worst form.

Even when dour behaviors emerge, the 5% of the time when people do the wrong thing, there are often situational factors conspiring with the Troubled individuals. For example, when arguments escalate between two people, passionate beliefs can lead to regrettable statements. In other cases, people may lie to protect those they care about. And sometimes, people even steal because of an addiction or history of abuse. Are these people bad or did Trouble inspire bad choices?

I pride myself on my extreme value of integrity, but not everything is black and white, right or wrong. In order to grow as a leader in the future, I need to cultivate a humanistic approach to leadership, one based on patience and understanding. I recent read that an authentic leader always asks, “what’s really really going on here?” Even when it all seems wrong, I would do well to take a step back and assume good intentions.

P.S.: Here’s Eddie Vedder covering Cat Stevens’ “Trouble.” I love this song.

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