Leaders: manage your baggage.

When people’s brains are in defensive mode, it becomes harder to see common sense. Small disagreements can end up holding back progress beyond reason. ~Caroline Webb

Covid fatigue may require you to manage your baggage a little more frequently. I’ve seen two extremes as we head into another round of intense covid surges. Those who are going out of their way to be helpful, kind, etc. And those who have hit their breaking point and go into fight or flight mode.

Manage Your Baggage

Manage your own baggage. That’s the header author Caroline Webb used to introduce this section of her book How to Have a Good Day, which combines the sciences of behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience. I believe that the most effective leaders have the emotional intelligence to “manage your baggage.”

We all have triggers. Those things that consistently set us off. We feel our blood pressure rise, our palms may sweat, our breathing changes, a sense of anger begins to form deep in our gut, etc. Our brains move into defensive mode and if we are not careful, we will likely regret what we say next.

Hit Reset

So what do you do in the heat of the moment? Hit the reset button. We can each develop our own personal reset routine. It only takes two steps and a few seconds. But they can be very critical seconds that will significantly impact how a conversation continues and the ultimate outcome of that conversation. Here are the two simple steps to deploy when you feel your temperature rising.

  1. Step back. What small, personal routine or action can help you to stop and take a deep breath. It might be a specific breathing technique (breath in for a count of three and out for a count of three, etc.). Or maybe what works for you is doing something physical like taking a pen and roll it between your fingers while examining it. Another example could be a phrase you say to yourself like, “Easy does it.” Whatever you do, it will likely only take a few seconds, but it’s the action you will always take in order to force yourself to mentally take a step back.
  2. Reset. Ask yourself a curious question that will be your go-to question when you begin to feel your blood boil. Examples could be: “What is my real intention for this conversation?” “When I look back on this conversation what will I feel good about having done?” “What really matters?”

Leaders Have Triggers

Leaders, just like everyone, have their baggage, the triggers that set them off. But effective leaders manage their baggage by quickly, and instinctively, hitting the reset button. They first have some way of “stepping back,” followed by the “reset” question they ask themselves.

In a new frame of mind with a calmer physical presence, these leaders shift their tone and perspective as they re-engage in the conversation.

We likely all know people who seem to be unflappable. They are calm and cool even when conversations get heated. I believe that they too have triggers, and those triggers are set off periodically. They haven’t eliminated their triggers, but they have learned how to “manage your baggage” because they have a reset routine that has become instinctive.

It takes bold grace to manage your baggage. And that may be needed, now, more than ever.

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