The Rational Mind

Updated Nov 27, 2017

How do you deal with bad news in your business? An employee misses a project deadline, a customer comes in screaming because your counter person sent them home with the wrong part. Twice.

What do you do? How do you receive that information and what is your response?

If your answer is to get angry, Jim Burns says that’s OK. It’s a natural emotional reaction. The problem comes when that anger fuels your response. Being angry about bad news is one thing; being angry while addressing said news is a different disaster entirely.

Last month I had the good fortune of attending VIPAR Heavy Duty’s Annual Business Conference in Orlando. As many of you know I go to my fair share of conferences so I get the chance to hear a lot of business management experts and motivational speakers. VIPAR had several of those speakers last month in the energetic Donald Cooper, the thoughtful Frank Morgan and movie Brad Pitt himself, Oakland Athletics’ executive Billy Beane.

But in addition to that great trio, the group also welcomed Burns, vice president and managing director at Grande Lakes Orlando, where the convention was being held. Burns is a longtime professional speaker in addition to his duties at the property, and thanks to his career in the hospitality industry, he’s uniquely qualified to speak on another vital aspect of leadership: resiliency.

Burns says you can read a lot of books and go to a lot of meetings to learn how to run a business, but when bad news falls in your lap, it’s how you react, not what you know, that has the largest impact on how that issue is resolved.

“Leadership is 20 percent the leadership role, and 80 percent is leadership presence,” he says.

I agree with Burns wholeheartedly. Think about your operation and your employees. Have you ever blown up on one of them? Why you did it doesn’t matter; only that it happened. How did they respond?

Maybe they cowered. Went into self-preservation mode. Maybe they lashed out—to you, a colleague or a customer—in response. Maybe they slumped their shoulders, did what you asked, and then checked out mentally.

One thing they likely didn’t do was eagerly and happily respond to your instruction, executing a rational strategy you provided them to deal with the issue at hand. And that’s not their fault, because Burns says you likely didn’t give them one.

“When the amygdala kicks on, the cerebral cortex turns off,” says Burns, referring to the emotional and rational thinking sections of the mind. “When people ask, ‘What were they thinking?’ the answer is they likely weren’t [thinking]. At least not rationally.”

It’s why he preaches resilient leadership. Burns says leaders who allow emotions to impact their problem solving and decision making are crippling their businesses from the top down. Just like you don’t kick the dog when you’ve had a bad day, you can’t take your problems out on your employees, and you can’t let your problems impact what you do.

The buck must stop with you.

To Burns, resiliency isn’t eliminating or avoiding emotional responses, it’s accepting they are an aspect of life while developing (when thinking rationally, of course) a personal method you can use to withstand those moments without allowing them to damage your business. It’s learning how to hit the mat, take a deep breath and get back up again.

Who knows, maybe you’re lucky and you’ve never had a bad day at work in your life.

But for the rest of us, I think a little resiliency in our operations could go a long way.

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