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Lessons from “The Helicopter Man”

Source: cronkitenewsonline.comDealing with Toxic Leaders…and How to Avoid Being One Yourself!

Several years ago, I was a mechanic in a privately owned shop that specialized in German cars. It was an interesting and challenging job. I got to work on a lot of nice cars…and some that were not so nice.

There was one “challenge” on that job that I did not really care for…dealing with the shop owner’s (our boss) angry episodes. Two or three times a week, he would storm through the shop with an angry look on his red, flushed face, his arms flailing in the air, and muttering under his breath with every step. The first time I witnessed this behavior, I was a bit shocked and concerned. After dealing with the behavior for a little while, my coworkers and I would just look at each other and roll our eyes as if to say, “What is it now?”

The boss’s anger was rarely directed at us. Often, he had these tantrums for different reasons:

  •  dealing with challenging customers
  •  his wife calling at inconvenient times (according to him, no time was convenient)
  •  whenever the shop owner next door would ask for his assistance

He knew exactly what he was doing, and often bragged about how great his health was because he never held his anger in. Often he would say, “The doctor says my blood pressure is great, and I’m as healthy as a horse. It’s all because I don’t bottle anything up!” He would then go into the story about how he used to storm through the car dealership where he worked in the same manner. He said that he did it so much; coworkers started calling him “The Helicopter Man” for the way he would flail his arms around.

This behavior may have been cathartic for the boss, but it was stressful for us. It really didn’t matter who the boss’s anger was directed toward, or how “healthy” his behavior was supposedly keeping him, we were the ones who had to deal with it!

Emotions are Contagious

Don’t believe me? Take a minute to think about the last time that you were happy, and having a great day; when someone in your life (family member, significant other, coworker, or boss) walked in looking worried, angry, or sad. Did your mood change? I’m willing to bet that it did…at least for a moment. We have the capability and tendency to mirror the emotions of those around us, thanks to the sympathetic and mirror networks at work in our brains.

Leaders Stay Aware and In Charge of Their Mood

Good leaders understand how contagious their emotions can be, and strive to keep their emotions in check. They know that misdirected or unrestrained anger has the potential to cause problems in their organizations. They find constructive ways to manage, direct, and deal with “hot button” issues:

  •  They take time to stop and analyze the mood they are in as the day progresses, and as situations rise.
  •      They set up schedules that allow them to make effective use of their time, and avoid distractions that may trigger a bad mood.
  •  They set boundaries, and say “no” to opportunities that are not in their best interest. If something needs attention and they do not have the time to take care of it themselves, they delegate it.
  •  If someone in the organization makes a mistake, it is discussed behind closed doors, and not in public. (Always remember: Praise in public – Correct in private)
  •     They use humor and laughter as a tool to keep everyone around them in a positive mood. Positive moods = increased and better quality production.

Dealing with Toxic Leaders

I am willing to bet that just about everyone out there has experienced (or is currently experiencing) dealing with an angry boss or a toxic leader. Unfortunately, they are out there among us…like snakes in the grass, poised and ready to strike!

What can you do when faced with a toxic leader?

  •  Remember to avoid taking it personally. The toxicity is their problem, not yours.
  •  Set boundaries and limit the time you spend with the toxic person. Take control of your environment.
  •  Remember that you are in charge of your emotions! The negativity can stop with you, and avoid becoming contagious to others.

Unfortunately, toxic leaders are everywhere. They pop up when we least expect it. Thanks to the lessons learned from my experience with the “Helicopter Man” and other toxic leaders like him, I not only learned how to avoid being a “Helicopter Man” myself, I have also learned how to deal with that type of behavior.

I hope that these tips will help you deal with toxic leaders that you may encounter, and will also help you keep from becoming a toxic leader yourself.

Have you ever had to deal with a toxic leader? If so, what tips did you use that could be added to the list?

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