Momentum Podcast: 87
Are You A Punishing Leader?
by Alex Charfen
Very few entrepreneurs actually set out to be punishing leaders. We want to grow successful teams, deliver amazing client results, and help the people around us grow. We are driven to do more, be more, and create amazing outcomes in the world.
We push ourselves harder than most and the people around us as hard as we push ourselves. We help people break barriers and create new belief systems and achieve what they previously thought was impossible. When we are in the flow of momentum, and everything is exciting and we can't help but want more.
However, when there is a challenge or an issue in the business, it can almost immediately put us into full constraint. We get to the place where we feel like we can't move forward and for people like us that is the worst feeling in the world. When this happens, it is critical that you use these strategies so that you don't end up inadvertently punishing your team, even when they've done nothing wrong.
Full Audio Transcript
I'm Alex Charfen, and this is the Momentum Podcast, made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers, and creators of all kinds. Those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny, we define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop, and we don't know how.
While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future, and instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive, human evolution, and we always will be.
Welcome to this episode of the Momentum Podcast, titled Are You a Punishing Leader? For most of my life, I've built teams. I think I have had a tendency to build teams, I've had a drive to build teams, for one primary reason. I'm really not good at most things. I joke about that, and people sometimes take that as just me being humble. But to be honest with you, the fact is in my life I was a natural born failure. I had to learn how to succeed, and I learned early that I also had to surround myself with people who could cover my deficit, cover the places where I wasn't good, who could fill in where I had challenges, or what I wanted to happen just wasn't going to be there. It wasn't going to happen.
It took me forever to learn this lesson about being a punishing, or what I normally call a punitive, leader. I've changed punitive to punishing so that the title would sound better, but it's a punitive leader. It's like, are you punitive? Are you punishing your team? Do they feel like it's hard to be around you? Do you do this every once in a while? Because here's what happens. I want you to understand how important your role is as the entrepreneur in a business.
You're one of the three most or four most important people in someone's life. When you look at the Rey score in psychology, and you look at all of the different scores that are assigned to major things that happen in someone's life, one of the biggest scores there is is that when there's a change with your career. So, you hold the keys. You are in charge. You are the person who leads in one of the most important aspects of your team's life. They spend more time with you than they do with their family most of the time, or at least they spend more time working for you, or working with you, than they do with the people they love.
Here's the challenge for us as entrepreneurs. We can become punishing, punitive leaders without wanting to. In fact, very few entrepreneurs actually go out to be punishing leaders. Now, let's be honest, they're out there. There are some crazy, narcissistic, insane entrepreneurs, I've worked with some of them, who are punishing. They're punitive. They want to like hurt the people around them. They want to grow through annihilating other people's businesses. They're mean. They manipulate their team. They manipulate the people around them. They manipulate deals, and they get into contracts just to break them. I've met these people.
That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about you. You listen to my podcast. You're not one of these people. If you listen to the messages that I have, then you're someone who wants to build a team. You grow your outcomes, have a bigger effect in the world, and make the greatest contribution you possibly can. One of the big challenges for us as entrepreneurs is that we're driven to do more, be more, create amazing outcomes. Grow as much as we possibly can. We push the limits every day. We get up driving ourselves forward. We want to be in momentum, and we want to be moving forward at the fastest rate we possibly can.
As a result, when things go wrong, when they don't go our way, when we feel constrained, when we're facing resistance, when we're not getting what we really want, it can put us into this place of feeling challenged, and apathetic, and depressed, and frustrated, and irritated, and even angry. Here's the challenge for so many of us. Here's where we slip into inadvertently becoming punishing, punitive, mean leaders. I've seen it. I've seen it over and over again.
Here's what happens. We get into this condition in our lives where we're not happy. We're not excited. We feel constrained. We feel slowed down. We feel held in place, and we don't tell our teams why. We just go into the office, or we go meet with our teams, we get in our daily huddle, we have an interaction with one of our team members, but without sharing with them what's going on with us. We just go into it and we start doing that same old garbage that we've heard for most of our careers, like, "Oh, I've just got to fake it until I make it," or, "Suck it up. I'm never going to let them see me sweat." Instead of saying like, "Hey, I'm having a rough day today," we go into the meeting pretending like we aren't, but let's be honest, everyone knows you are.
It's this lack of transparency, this lack of proactive transparency, of telling the people around you what's going on that will get you stuck in place, because here's what happens. When you show up for your team and you are frustrated, or irritated, or angry, or upset, or any of those things, even if you're really good at hiding it, I don't care if you're the world champion at hiding when you're having negative feelings, your team, if they've worked with you long enough, if they care about you enough, if they care about your mission, if they are true believers, they will feel there's something wrong.
You need to understand something about your team. 100% of the time, when they feel like something's wrong with you, who do you think they're going to give responsibility for that? What do you think their instinct is going to be? They're going to think that they've done something wrong, or that they need to fix it, or that they've missed somewhere. This is where we slip into being a punishing, punitive leader because if you're the same all the time, if you're working with people, you're excited, you're there with them, you're backing them up, you're helping them out, and then all of a sudden you come in and you're frustrated, and you're not connected, and you feel distant, and you're not talking to people like you normally do, but you don't say, "Hey guys, here's what's going on for me," you don't proactively transparently say, "Hey, I had a rough night," or, "I had a hard time with my wife, or my husband," or, "One of my kids is sick," or, "I'm really frustrated because I missed some of my own personal goals, but it has nothing to do with you guys."
If you're not transparent, what happens is they all take responsibility, and you will rob your entire team of momentum. This is so important because any of you who are building a team know that there's a point in entrepreneurship where your entire success, everything you do, everything you're capable of depends entirely on how well you lead your team, on what your team does, on what the outcomes of you collectively working together can get done. And when you rob your team of momentum, you take away the progress that all of you are making.
Here's another way to handle this. Be honest with your team. Let them know what's going on for you. Be proactively transparent and tell them. They don't need gory details. You don't need to tell them about the fight you had last night with your wife, or you don't need to tell them about why you're frustrated about your personal goals. But something as simple as saying ... And I remember doing this, going into my team and saying, "Hey, Cadey and I had an argument last night. I'm sorry, guys. I'm a little out of it. I'm a little frustrated. I'm sure that happens to you guys," and my executive team would say, "Oh yeah, man. We've been there," and then they would know it's not them.
There was a time where Cadey and I weren't aligning a lot. We were frustrated with each other, and it was hard because prior to that, prior to understanding this, before I figured this out, before I figured out that I had to tell my team how I was feeling all the time or they would pick it up and then just take judgment on themselves and hold it against themselves, this used to happen all the time. I'd walk into a daily huddle irritated and just stay irritated through the whole thing, not really saying a lot, or I'd go into a meeting with a team member distracted, and frustrated, and on my phone and trying to get something else done without telling them what was going on.
It was almost like I had a blind spot for how I affected the people around me, and I think the fact is most entrepreneurs, most people I've ever worked with, most of the entrepreneurs I coach have a similar blind spot. We all have this place where we have a hard time seeing how we affect those around us. But there's this concept called emotional contagion that literally says the way you feel is going to be contagious to the people around you when you feel strongly about something. That emotion you're feeling is going to be contagious. That emotion you're feeling is going to be picked up on by your team.
When you let them know what's happening, when you trust them, when you tell them, when you're transparent, they know what's happening. And here's the colossal flip of the coin that happens. When your team doesn't know what's going on, they take responsibility. They feel bad. They try and figure out what they can do to be better. They often feel nervous, and they feel upset. They feel confused. They want to know what's happening.
Now, here's the flip of the coin. You go in and you let them know, "Hey guys, here's where I am today. I'm having kind of a rough day," for whatever reason, and they will immediately go from feeling judged to trying to support you. They will go from taking responsibility for you feeling bad to taking responsibility for helping you get out of it. They will go from feeling like they did something wrong to now knowing if they can proactively support you or even if they can't, just to stay out of the way, but at least they understand what's happening.
If you're growing a team, if you're putting people around you to create more output, if you're putting people around you so you can scale and grow, if you have people around you who rely on you as their leader, who look to you as their source of revenue and income, and let's be honest, for most people who work with us, they look to you for their source of motivation because most people get their motivation from what they do every day. Most people, and here's what's really important, get their momentum from what they do every day. You set up your business right, you give people clear outcomes, a clear scoreboard, a clear understanding of what they should do and they will get into momentum with you.
The next time you're having a challenging day, the next time you're having a challenging issue in your life, the next time something's going on, I got a suggestion for you. Take all that garbage you heard about never let them see you sweat, or fake it until you make, or suck it up and throw it out the window because it doesn't work. You're not an actor. You can't pretend. It's going to come through. Instead, try the easiest way to lead a team, lead a family, be in a relationship, and connect with the people around you. Be transparent, and proactively transparently let them know what's going on.
Give them an opportunity to step into the role of support instead of the role of reaction. Give them an opportunity to help you get back into momentum instead of losing their own. Give them the opportunity to stay out of the way and get their work done instead of trying to figure out how they can help you and what's really happening and being distracted. Just this strategy will dynamically change how you work with the people around you, because here's why proactive transparency really does change everything. When the people around you know what's going on, know what's important to you, know how you feel, and know where you are as an entrepreneur, they have the opportunity to support you, regardless of what's happening.
Whether you understand this or not today, when you hire true believers, when you put the right people around you, when you have people who are excited to be on your team, they want to support you. They get up every morning thinking, "How can I create more momentum? How can I get more done? How can we achieve more? How can we do more?" True believers will do anything to make the goal happen unless they have a punitive or punishing leader, because this is the fact with human beings. It doesn't matter how dedicated they are, how excited they are about what you're doing, how involved they are in their projects, how much they love your clients, how much they love the market. If they feel like they're working for someone who's inconsistent, or aggressive, or mean, or punitive, even if it's infrequent, true believers will go away. Your best people will leave.
Those who are willing to tolerate all that behavior will stay, and you will look up one day and think, "How did I end up with this team? Why are these people here? Why don't I have the people that are excited to be here, and excited to have their lives, and pushing me to be a better person?" Well, because what's left is the people who are willing to put up with punitive behavior, who are willing to put up with not really knowing what's going on. The fact is A players, entrepreneurial personality types who are driven by momentum, the people that you desperately want to recruit, the people who you want on your team are driven away aggressively by this type of behavior.
I know I've talked almost this entire podcast about your team, but the same goes for your wife. The same goes for your kids. The same goes for your family. If you come home from work and your wife says, "How was work today?" and you say, "Fine," but it was really terrible, and then the rest of the night you're quiet, and to yourself, and just trying not to bother anyone, you're not doing it because you want to have your family be uncomfortable, you're doing it because you don't want to bother them. You don't want to burden them with what's going on for you. But if you do that all night, now your family's going to think that something's wrong.
Instead, just come home and be transparent. Say, "Hey, I had a rough day at work." Share with your wife what's going on. Share with your kids what happened. Let them know. Let your kids grow through your experience. Let them understand that not every day is great. Let them see who you really are, because when we do this, the people around us pull closer. When we are proactively transparent, we form stronger bonds with the people we work with, and when it comes to your family, with the people we live with. When we are proactively transparent, we give everyone around us an opportunity to support us and help us. And let's be really honest. You, me, and every entrepreneur I've ever worked with, is terrible at asking for help, so when we're transparent, at least we open the door. Avoid being a punitive leader. Tell your team what's going on. Share with them who you really are. Let them in, give them responsibility and you will see them be responsible, step up and help you create momentum and move forward like you want.
If you haven't yet, take a minute today and do me a favor, subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review. We get a few reviews a week. I will admit that I'm like a kid on Christmas when I see that the review numbers have gone up, I go to read what somebody said. Let me know what you think of the podcast. Let me know what you think of the information that we're sharing here on momentum, and give me some of your feedback. I would really appreciate it. I look forward to being back with you again tomorrow. I've got an outline of podcasts for this week that I think are going to really excite you. If you're building a team, growing a business, scaling your contribution in the world, you're not going to want to miss any of the next few that come out. Thanks for being here.