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Ten Foolish Coping Strategies of Wise Leaders


Short-term fixes can destroy companies, careers, and lives.

There are 10 things that smart leaders do to help them cope -- but those very actions could mess up their companies, careers, and lives.

"Everybody here has the ability to do anything I do and much beyond. Some of you will and some of you won't. For those who won't, it will be because you get in your own way, not because the world doesn't allow you."
-- Warren Buffett (speaking at the University of Washington)

Why is it that management and leadership and strategy books keep being published when merely adhering to most of them for an adequate amount of time would yield sustained positive results?

Why is it that management and leadership theorists and experts keep reinventing the wheel instead of imploring us to just keep our nose to the grindstone until results happen?
Why is it that positive thinking (and planning) is no match for negative behavior?

Quite simply, our animal brain has been around for hundreds of millions of years; our fully functioning hominid brain for tens of thousands of years. When we run into adversity, our animal brains push us to react by "fight or flight." This reflex is deeply embedded in our DNA, because it goes back to the beginning of evolution.

Compare that to our human brains, which wage an uphill fight to have us pause, think, consider, weigh consequences, choose the best course of action, and respond. I'll wager that only a very small percentage of our chromosomes is dedicated to what makes us human (that is, able to reflect before we react) compared to what makes us an animal (that reacts by reflex).

Add to that the fact that most reactive, fight or flight behavior -- which often leads to negative results -- isn't negative in the short term. Negative behavior starts out as a way to cope with distress and in the very short term, relieves it. Fighting and fleeing are defensive or protective actions that seem preferable to doing nothing and being obliterated (with all due respect to the non-violent approach of Gandhi, et al., which didn't end too well for him personally). Despite it being a career-ending move, getting angry, exploding to the point of violence at a superior -- or these days, at a subordinate -- releases much stress and relieves much tension.

Slightly less immediately destructive are the verbal defensive/protective reactions of whining, blaming, making excuses, or feeling sorry for oneself (in hopes that aggressors will take pity and remit). These may not end your career, but they certainly will affect your promotions, pay raises, and the number of people who will want to socialize with you at company picnics.

Recently there's been a decided shift to focusing on solutions rather than staying embedded and stuck in problems. As much as that appeals to me philosophically and seems reasonable, it's just not realistic. Until self-defeating behaviors that help you cope for the moment at the expense of your future are identified and (their presence and the consequences of ignoring them) accepted as opposed to minimized (or worse, denied), the chances for forward progress as a company (where such behaviors are rampant) or an individual will be small.

An analogy can be made to the most effective treatment for alcoholism -- Alcoholics Anonymous. Until an alcoholic recognizes and accepts that drinking is a problem and one that he's powerless over, there's often very little positive movement in his life.
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