Learning to react from strength, not stress

leadership coaching Sep 25, 2017

How often have you heard someone say, “Oh, he’s a totally different guy when he’s not in the office!” or “Catch her on a good day if you’re going to ask about that!”

These are examples of inconsistent behavior observed in those with positions of power. HR managers often witness a similar disconnect when the person they’ve hired behaves completely differently on the job than the way in which they performed during the hiring interview.

Such inconsistent behaviour is a sign that an individual has learned to focus on what they believe is “right behaviour”. Right behaviour is social behaviour you are expected to exhibit, given a specific set of circumstances. For example, if you’re a CEO, you are expected to make decisions quickly and without emotion; if you’re a financial manager, you need to come across as strong and tough; if you’re a sport’s coach, you need to be loud and boisterous.

Inconsistent behaviour makes you feel drained, even agitated

Right behaviour does not draw on an individual’s strengths; in fact, it can be counter-productive. Its impact was explored in 1957 when psychologist Leon Festinger described a very powerful motivator called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive difference is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you are continually coming across with inconsistent attitudes, concepts or ideas. If you continually exhibit inconsistent behaviour, you are more likely to second guess your decisions, or avoid decisions that you view as anything less than perfect.

Trying to continually exhibit the “right” behaviour is exhausting. Placing such value on acting right uses up personal fuel. You begin feeling stressed, drained, perhaps hating your job or feeling you don’t belong. Over time, the stress becomes dangerous for your personal well-being, your health, and the health and productivity of your team.

Inconsistent behaviour also causes others to lose trust in you because they never quite know how they’ll find you. Lack of trust drives a wedge into your effectiveness as a leader, and again, leads to more stress in yourself and others.

Uncovering your authentic behaviour

So how do you shake off “right behaviour”?  Each of us needs to learn how to act and react according to who we are, that is our strengths, and not by how we think we should act or respond.

Victor Frankel framed it beautiful when he wrote:

Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lie our growth and our freedom.

All too often, people react without thinking. Frankel encourages us to learn to notice that there is a “space” before we react. By learning how to recognize, increase, and make use of this ‘space, we can respond authentically – from who we are, from our strengths not from “how we think we should act.”

I guarantee you’ll notice a difference immediately. You will come across as authentic, and therefore, trusted, confident and strong. Internally, your personal energy is fueled, not diminished. You now can give more than you take, and over time find greater inner happiness and satisfaction.

When do you notice you are “acting” and putting on “right behaviour” instead of being your authentic self?


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