Let me address a soft factor that I’m seeing cause great loss in the lives of leaders. Simply put, it is the factor of bitterness.
I understand that lives of leadership are not easy. They require conflict. They require confrontation. Often, these episodes leave hard feelings and bitterness in their wake.
Yet when a leader is dominated by bitterness or anger over some past episode, he or she often spews. They talk about what happened. They vent their offense. They trash the people who were involved. Yet they are usually blind to what they are doing to themselves and what effect this conduct is having on those around them.
I know a CEO. He’s a good guy leading well in most areas. The organization is growing. Yet this leader frankly hates the previous CEO. The two men had to work together for a while and something went wrong. So the current CEO cannot speak of the previous CEO without spewing venom. He cannot honor the work done in that earlier era. The previous CEO has never been invited back. He has never been honored. He has never been thanked. The day he left the property was the last day anyone from the organization made contact with him.
I’m in a position to help this organization and the venom I heard spewed about this previous CEO was so toxic that I had to ask if the guy had done something immoral or illegal. No, he hadn’t, I was told. The current CEO just doesn’t like him.
So let me tell you what this has produced in the organization. A great many of the current leadership have lost respect for the current CEO because he’s so bitter. It disturbs them that a good man and his stellar contributions are not honored. They also know that they might be treated the same way one day. Bitter people behave bitterly and anyone can be a target. So, the current CEO now runs an organization of hesitant people who know they might be dishonored in the future. They also have less and less respect for their otherwise gifted current CEO and all because he goes dark and scary when he talks about his favorite subject: how bad the previous CEO was.
This man is destroying his own house. His words and his toxic spew are tainting his own firm. And the truly ironic part of it all is that the current CEO feels bold and empowered when he angrily speaks about the previous guy. He’s wrong, though. He isn’t powerful at that moment. He’s weak and flawed and those around him know it.
Hear me. A leader has to judge his conduct not just by whether it feels good to him in the moment. He has to judge his conduct by what it does to his team, by how it impacts all that he leads.
I’m concerned about this current CEO because I know that bitterness is toxic. I’m concerned about him because I know that once bitterness is given place, it won’t just be directed towards the previous CEO, but also at children and spouse and friends. And I’m concern because bitter people don’t lead well. They are backward looking and small. No one is engaged by them.
So, rise above. Take stock of your bitterness. Get help in overcoming. Be disciplined enough to process your hurts in private, not in the conference room. This is important. Take some time with this.