Do You Get into Street Fights or Lead from the Acropolis?


Another blog about angry people? Yes! I spend lots of time with angry people who don’t talk (directly) to their each other and so, I have lots of experience helping them transform divisive team cultures into those that allow for differing perspectives and functional interacting and problem solving. Ooh la la, that’s a mouthful!

What does it mean to lead from the street?

It means seeing, hearing and feeling what people are saying. If your boss uses harsh words, you hear those and most likely, react to the emotions of your boss’ emotional state, tone of voice, words used. If your colleague sends you a curt email, you notice the feeling you feel from his/her attitude. If you, yourself, react to new information you don’t like, you might speak or act in a way that you might not otherwise and on the street, people see and respond to that.

When on the street, if you respond to street occurrences from a street perspective, then it’s likely you’ll get into lots of street fights. You might think “My boss has no right to talk to me that way!” or you might tell a colleague who has just blamed you for something you didn’t do to “go to !%&*$#.” On the street, it’s easy to get into a fight by using your position power, criticisms, blame, humiliation, new information or any other sticks/weapons you might have to swiftly end the fight without dying. On the street, everything is a win-lose game and you play to win.

Most organizational cultures include and/or encourage street engagement. It’s unlikely anyone’s intention, but that’s how most places work. The people who seek position power constantly strategize to their advantage and the people who want something else try to survive. Everyone gets entangled into tit-for-tat discussions that lead nowhere useful, creating frustration and undermining any trusting relationship that had the good luck of existing at all. The more blood you spill, the more “effective” a leader you’re considered in many environments.

What’s it like to rise above the street?

You can always use another vantage point even when the modus operandi is to fight in the street. Climb up to the Acropolis, an ancient site that sits high above Athens, and you access a different view. You can’t hear any words or see any emotions. You don’t know people’s agenda’s or feel any frustration. From the Acropolis, you see things from a detached (but not disengaged) perspective and you contemplate what’s happening and what people are telling you from a distance.

Underneath everyone’s words, expressions and actions lie underlying thoughts, feelings and assumptions that tell you more about the situation than their actual words or interactions. For example, if your boss’ boss blames you for something you hadn’t done, you can either engage in a tit-for-tat email exchange or conversation that defends your name. Depending on the situation, it’s likely that that strategy will go nowhere except to create a long strain of emails that confuses you and everyone else who gets involved. Want another approach?

Go to the Acropolis.

From that vantage point, you can decode what your boss’ boss actually wants to tell you. Maybe s/he’s nervous about someone on his/her team dropping the ball? Or worried that his/her credibility is being questioned. Or that s/he’s overstressed and/or unskilled to inquire instead of blaming. You can defend your position and show that you actually hadn’t done what was said OR you can focus on the ideal outcome. No need to respond to the blame or accept it, in fact, you just focus on the ideal outcome.

From the Acropolis, you are detached emotionally and don’t take things personally, so you can respond calmly. From the Acropolis, there are no fights — there are strategic discussions that integrate the big picture with what’s needed in the moment.

From the Acropolis, you take the lead regardless of position power. You lead the focus on what matters and speak to core issues instead of the emotions/vocabulary/behavior that come up on the street.

Try it. You’ll be amazed at the freedom you’ll feel and the satisfaction of transforming problems into agreements that move everyone forward.


[Image from Freepik]