|May 14, 2012
from the desk of Chuck Violand...
Good Monday morning, <<First Name>>—
From time to time people will send me articles on the subject of leadership. Most of them are really good reads with a message I can apply in my own life. Some of them I share with you through my Monday Morning Notes.
A while back I got an article from a client that seemed to resonate with me more than most, possibly because it speaks to an area of my own development on which I know I need to work.
I took this opportunity to ask a couple of my colleagues, Dr. Holly Bognar and Scott Tackett, whose opinions I very much respect, to join me in writing this series. Many of you are familiar with Holly and Scott either from attending our Executive Summit or from working with Violand Management. I’m confident you’ll find the perspectives they bring to "The Law of the Garbage Truck" both insightful and fun.
THE LAW OF THE GARBAGE TRUCK, Part I
by Chuck Violand...
Few things are more inspiring to me than people who can take a confrontational encounter and disarm the situation by responding in a calm, intelligent manner, rather than compounding things by responding in kind. As much as I try to work on this area myself, I know I still have a lot of room to grow.
Some time ago I received an email from a client we’ve worked with for years. He forwarded me a story about a guy who encountered just such a situation. Here’s how he related the story:
“One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean he was really friendly. So I asked, 'Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!' This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call ‘The Law of the Garbage Truck.’ He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it, and sometimes they'll dump it on you. Don't take it personally, just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets.”
Talk about taking the high road and disarming a situation! Here was someone whose very job places him in stressful situations all day long and yet, he possessed clear-headed thinking when faced with a confrontation. If he’s able to bring this kind of calm thinking to this kind of situation I can only imagine the kind of leadership he brings to his customers, co-workers, and managers. It made me wonder just how much more successful we could all be as leaders of our companies if we did the same thing.
When we let our emotions get out of control in stressful or confrontational situations we’re having what Dr. Holly Bognar refers to as an “Amygdala High Jacking.” We’re no longer in control of our behavior; our amygdala is.
The amygdala is a small gland near the center of our brain that plays a central role in our emotional responses to outside stimuli—like people opening car doors in our path, shaking fists at us, or calling us names. It’s one of the oldest parts of our brain and is the seat of our emotional reactions. It’s where emotions, both good and bad, are processed (think crimes of passion). We can either let our amygdala take us on an epic emotional ride where people will actually have a reason to call us names and shake their fists at us, or we can take control of our emotions and respond in a mature, appropriate manner.
We can’t change others who are full of garbage and getting mad at them for it is about as useless as getting mad at a door for being a door. It won’t do a thing to change it.
What we can each do is control ourselves. Successful people don’t let garbage truck incidents take over their lives. Nobody can control your emotions but you, and getting angry and losing control never improved any situation.
In Part II of this series my colleagues, Dr. Holly Bognar and Scott Tackett, will join me to discuss how “Garbage Truck Behavior” and “Amygdala High Jackings” play out in the work place. We will also show how the people we lead are affected by them, and ultimately, how they impact the performance of our companies.
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