Jennie Marshall | 28 June 2013
Leaders are constantly processing information from all angles and in the course of doing so they are called upon to make decisions based on that information.
That's where our knees come in.
Sometimes the nature of this information, its source, or the manner in which it was delivered puts some kind of strange electric charge into the knee and consequently, it jerks upward, causing a powerful reaction.
And a big leadership mistake. Huge.
Mainly, a very premature and ill-informed action or decision.
The classic "knee-jerk response".
It can badly wound or even ruin many a career and it doesn't have to be that way - if this little "tick" can be controlled.
There are three main ways to do it:
- Behaviour and anger management
- Respect for the facts
- Keeping hearsay in perspective
Let's start with controlling your behaviour and anger. The anger
lurks in many places in the workplace. It can be triggered in many
ways - by an e-mail or a remark at a meeting or a contentious phone
call. Or by a negative report that points a finger at you. Or maybe
something as innocuous as spilling hot coffee on your brand new
Anger goes right to the knee, because it's an emotion that is asking (no, begging) for a release. I'll give you a classic example - the flaming e-mail. You know the one. The e-mail that makes your blood boil before you even finish reading it. You want to immediately write a response that fights the fire with more fire. Emotion drives your fingertips, not rationale calm.
These kind of knee jerks can practically cause a hernia, they are so strong. Anger must be managed - that release must go somewhere other than the knee. Do some deep breathing. Take a walk. Go into your coat closet and scream. Chant "serenity now" (don't knock it, it has worked for me). In a nutshell….take 10 (seconds, minutes hours, days even) just don't let that knee jerk! Deal with it later, when you've gotten that release another way. Wait until the emotion has left you. You're more likely to respond then in a structured way.
Then, there's respect for facts and keeping hearsay in perspective. These two go hand in hand. I've seen hearsay sink a lot of leadership ships because that pesky knee jumped way, way up and made a hasty decision based on very sketchy information. Facts MUST be respected, in nearly every case.
There's always the question of how many facts a leader needs to make a good decision (using the gut instead of the knee) - because of the nature of business many decisions just have to be made with less than 100% of what is needed. However, it's a reasonable assumption to shoot for at least 50%; that's my minimum threshold.
That eliminates the prospect of decision-making based on a single shred of information that may look compelling at first glance - those are very well suited to causing the knee-jerk - and upon further investigation turn out to be less than accurate, or just plain wrong.
"Facts are stubborn things", said the American revolutionary patriot John Adams. What he didn't say (and I'm sure he surely thought it) was that facts, good behaviour control and good anger management, will also save you a lot of trips to your orthopedist to pull that knee off your head. Or, more importantly, trips to your bosses to explain your bad decisions.
QA Learning Expert: Leadership, Management and Business Skills