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.

The Burden Bearer

The Burden Bearer

Long ago, in a faraway country village lived a hard working people known as the rock carriers. Their job was to remove the large stones that blocked the village farmers from plowing their fields. Day after day, year after year, the rock carriers labored at the heavy task of carrying these large stones out of the fields all the way to a distant valley. This was very hard work and the rock carriers grew tired. One day, the rock carriers were delighted to see one of their very own, a young boy, begin to grow and exhibit great strength. As he grew taller and his shoulders grew wider, the rock carriers began to have this strong young man carry their rocks. One by one, they piled their stones onto his shoulders. The larger he grew, the more weight he could carry. He was strong, he could handle the load. He worked tirelessly. Soon, the entire group of rock carriers relied on this one strongman to do their work. They became lazy. And he became tired. Yet they continued to stack up the rocks on his shoulders. After many years, they noticed that the strongman was walking slower now. He began to stoop over while he walked the road to the distant valley. This was no problem for them; in fact, it was easier to just place the rocks on his back rather than all the way up on his shoulders. He was saving them even more work. As the days passed, the strongman stooped farther and farther, until one day he was looking straight at the ground. He was completely doubled over. The villagers continued to pile on their rocks. They hadn’t noticed that the strongman was no longer moving forward. All they knew was that he was such a helper, their lives were so much easier now. The rocks continued to pile up until one day, someone noticed that the strongman had disappeared. How dare he take a day off? Had he gotten lazy and abandoned them when they needed him the most?  So the village rock carriers had to start carrying the rocks again. But they had to carry the rocks all the way around the huge pile of rocks that was now in the middle of the village road. How rude of the strongman to leave the rocks there!

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Jesus) Matthew 11:28

The Pressure is Good for You

images-123Who am I trying to kid? Stress kills, we all know it. Heart disease and addictions and insomnia – with results like these, it’s not sounding all that healthy now, is it?

Zero in on this: When managed properly, pressure makes us produce. Whether the squeeze is a quota to meet at work, a relationship to mend or a temptation to whip, the expectation that we will do well increases the likelihood that we will do well.  It’s in the nature of most of us to want to succeed at the things we try. Those who avoid pressure in all forms are trapped in a rut of intimidation. We need a little pressure to squeeze us out of these ruts.

There are some keys to keeping pressure healthy and to managing the amount of stress that works for our good.

Know how much is enough. You have to be aware of your trigger points. What are the signs that it is getting to you? Just this side of that, back off.

Be in control of it. Never let the pressure control your life. You call the shots, you be the boss of the pressure, not the other way around.

Take a break. Even non-geniuses know you need to vacate sometimes. A daily 20-minute power nap may do the trick or you might need a cruise from time to time. All work and no play makes Jack act like an idiot.

Share the load. One guy can do the work of two but two can do the work of five. Synergy is the principle at work here. Learn the skill of teaming up. The pressure sinks and the productivity skyrockets.

Measure the results. Note where you are now and note where you are after an especially pressure-filled season. You should be markedly ahead. If not, either the pressure managed you or it was unnecessary pressure in the first place.

Come on and admit it – the pressure brings out the best in you (if you don’t let it kill you first!).

Put into play this solid verse from the Bible:  “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.” I Corinthians 10:13 (The Message)


th-3It’s composure under pressure.
It’s remaining solid when the world around you is shaking.
It’s confidence, even in uncertainty.
It’s maturity when surrounded by emotionalism.
It’s security when being second-guessed.
It’s faith when what you see is troubling.
It’s vision in a dark room.
It’s control in chaos.
It’s the stuff leaders are made of.