When Leaders Flail

design-65.pngThat’s not a typo.

Although I am addressing how some leaders respond in times of failure, flailing is my focus. The word flail can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it describes a primitive weapon, composed of a strong stick or pole, some type of rope or chain and a metal spiked ball at the end of the chain (picture courtesy of Google Images).  It was used in medieval times as a close-combat weapon. You can imagine the devastation it would cause an enemy. The verb form deals with a person who swings wildly, usually in a desperate attempt to overcome a dangerous situation. We see this kind of fighting in undisciplined street fights. Opponents don’t use fighting skills as much as they use brute strength, panic and a little bit of luck.

Let’s talk about flailing leaders. This type of flailing may not involve throwing punches, but it does involve wild responses. It happens when…

Under attack from an enemy.

In danger of being hurt.

Panic from failure sets in.

One doesn’t know what else to do.

Granted, it doesn’t happen in every one of these situations, but we’ve all seen it. A leader loses control of their assignment or themselves. They feel backed into a corner. They perceive a threat. So many of us come out swinging. They may yell, threaten others, try desperately to defend themselves or try to hurt others. We’re not sure who we are going to “hit” but someone will certainly get hurt.

I’m trying unsuccessfully to recall when a flailing leader came out looking good. I can name dozens of cases where a leader looked foolish while flailing.

Here are some things to remember the next time you are cornered, threatened, unsure, intimidated or in danger.

Once a leader loses their composure, things head downhill rapidly. People observe our reactions and responses. They watch closely what we do and say. They judge us as a leader based on our behavior. And many of them never forget what they observed. Years of trust building can be destroyed in a moment of flailing. Self-control is a vitally necessary characteristic for today’s leaders. If you lack control or are undisciplined, you will pay a big price. Poise is the ability to remain in control of one’s responses even when the situation is out of control. Poise under pressure is one of the most desirable traits for current leaders. People will trust and follow a leader that doesn’t panic. Maintaining equilibrium when things are falling apart allows a leader to help and serve others who desperately need them. Don’t get knocked off balance!

A flail (noun) is hard to control. Sometimes, people are hit unintentionally. Innocent bystanders can and will be damaged. And sometimes the person wielding the flail hits themselves. Sometimes, the blow is fatal.

Here’s the point: when leaders flail, people get hurt. Rather than helping people, we do damage.

The lesson is – prepare yourself ahead of time to respond to bad situations. Arm yourself with self-control, steady thinking, and the ability to remain calm. The next time someone or something threatens you, don’t fail by flailing! Your poise under pressure will serve you well and it will serve well those you are serving.