Years ago, I was in a training about leadership in rural areas. What I remember most vividly was the trainer spoke to us about the “lobster pot” theory. This theory is about communities that are experiencing distress often will get lost in a cycle of despair where if any individual or group start to climb out of the distress, the remainder do whatever they can to prevent it from happening- similar to when lobster is being prepared one will try to escape but the others pull them back down into the hot boiling water; preventing the one from bettering oneself.
Though I’ve experienced this in the past I had honestly thought I had left it behind when I moved into my own business; silly me for thinking so. A recent statement that was made in a public meeting was “is this that Tracy’s idea“- and though it wasn’t my idea I was merely trying to coordinate the community project, I wanted to stand up and yell “Who cares if it was or wasn’t my idea, the point is the project will protect ground water, improve and continue to provide a beloved community facility, and remove failing septic systems”. The point of the project is lost among the personal dislike of individuals (in this case myself and a couple others who has done so much for the local community). Why does this continue to happen? Is this because some are so lost in their own despair and hatred that they cannot imagine anyone doing something good, and right? Is it jealous of perceived power? Or is it merely a reflection on their own insecurities and self-doubt? Or is it their desire to use fear as a weapon to make themselves look important?
Who knows, but the best advice (supposedly) that I have been given is “what they think about you is none of your business and grow tougher skin if you want to be in leadership”… right? Well, I’m here to say no- that isn’t the best advice. I am a sensitive person and, though many don’t believe this, I am an introvert that sometimes struggles just being around people. Conflict makes me want to stay in my home binge watching Doris Day movies, but I’ve learned how to become stronger, not tougher, because of the conflict I’ve dealt with. I have learned there are ways to be a good leader without having to “develop tough skin” and how to become stronger without becoming hardened.
Here is a bit of my advice on dealing in these situations and people:
1. You don’t have to grow Alligator Skin to be a Leader– Time and time again, I’m told “Don’t take it personally. Get tougher skin. They are the vocal minority and we know who you are and what you do”. That is great advice but guess what… I am taking it personally because I give heart and soul to my work as I believe I’m making our community, State, Country, and World better.
I REFUSE TO HAVE ALLIGATOR SKIN! I will continue to take these statements about what I do personally as it makes me stronger but it doesn’t make me harder. I am more resolved than ever to push back, with positive affirmations and good work, against those that use fear and misinformation to bend people to their will. I will become better because they make me understand what I don’t want to be. I will learn from what criticism may be hidden in these blanketed statements of “fear mongrels” to improve my work and life. I also will share my compassion for these individuals, who live with such passionate fear themselves, to find peace at some point in their lives; as it is such a waste for anyone to be filled with such animosity that they cannot even understand that there truly is good in the world.
And truly the most genuine thing any of us can do when a community leader is being attacked by the vocal minority… show up! Show your community leaders that the community is watching and they do care about the leaders who have put themselves out there. So next time you read in the local newspaper or hear on the radio and you think “that’s not right” take the minute to send a quick email or make a call to your community leader, send a note of thanks, anything to help them understand that though they took a beating that day for the community they are loved and appreciated.
It is a lonely spot being a community leader sometimes but overall, most of the community is paying attention even if they don’t say or come to anything. It would just be really nice to get some positive affirmations as that goes a long way from preventing one of becoming “tougher”.
2. Understand the Motivation of Jealous and Insecurity – I had to recognize and come to accept that not everyone will like or admire my work; that some will see it as a direct reflection of their own shortcomings (perceived or real) and attack. The motivation of jealously and insecurity is strong and very dangerous; and are emotions that cannot be swept aside as they are powerful and often will cause undue destruction if not addressed; or better stated addressed in a conflicted manner.
Being super defensive in situations where people are “attacking” the work you are doing will do no good as you are not dealing with the rationality of a truly concerned individual… you are dealing with a handful of people, who have placed you or your project or team in the “threat” category. They are not rationally thinking what their actions are doing or the ripple effect of their decisions; they were in their own bubble caused by insecurity and for whatever self-doubting reasons they had only see the danger to them; rather it is real or not.
Dealing with a person(s) who is reacting to their own emotions of jealously and/or insecurity (I believe they work in a combined fashion) needs to be done outside of the collective good. Entering an argument with them publicly, though may feel good in the moment to defend oneself, will result in nothing more than making them even more determined to get you away from them, prove their point, or they will shut down completely. Classic flee or fight syndrome and a complete loss for all of us involved.
By stepping back, recognizing that the emotion isn’t really about you or the work and just letting the drama die down will allow them to control their own emotions over time and hopefully you can find a solution… though as a side-note if you are dealing with someone that is not in it for the betterment of the community but using fear and misinformation to promote themselves into a perceived position of power; in my opinion it is best to walk away and let their anger fizzle out. They can burn their own bridges faster than you can defend yourself.
However, if behavior is truly misplaced especially if its insecurity take the time to LISTEN to what they have to say and respond individually (one on one, no public, no bosses) to their concerns. Being a leader means understanding that some of the best conflict management is not getting tougher but getting softer so you can understand the underlying emotions and respect them.
My friends at Thrive have a wonderful class on Using Conflict. Though I only attended an abbreviated version a few months ago I’d highly recommend it. It is a great course on how to handle conflict to better yourself and the work you are doing.
3. Learn to Let Go- “Let it Go, Let It Go, turn away and slam the door”- And at the end you have a choice to let it go and move forward or to let their hatred, lobster clawing ways destroy you. I’ve fumed about things, I’ve vented to loved ones about how horrible these people are, and then I just found I was wasting so much time on them. I was allowing these people who obviously are not in a good place themselves, have control over my life! Why oh why would I do that? I made a promise to myself that my life would be dedicated to improving the world we live in. I am passionate about helping others succeed and rural communities to thrive. I will focus on being a change I want to see and though I am sure there will be days that I fume over a loss or an attack will get my Irish Temper flaring, I know in my heart that I’m stronger than ever before and that a new chapter will begin.
And at the end of the day… it really is the choice you make that will make you a better leader and overall a happier person.