BLUF – “If you live through defeat, you are not defeated. If you are beaten but acquire wisdom, you have won.” – Robert Diggs, aka The RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan
WARNING: this post is a bit of a rant for me. For the most part I try to share quick and easy-to-digest advice and stories on leadership, but this post is more like a long-form thought.
Earlier this week, I was listening to the episode 68 from the Chasing Excellence Podcast with Ben Bergeron, which covered the changing landscape of the CrossFit Games. Some of the core conversations were focused on dealing with change and how you can choose to respond to actions outside of your personal control. Taking actions within your personal control are dependent on your individual abilities of self awareness to recognize these situations and retaining control over your emotions prior to taking action. Key word in that last sentence is prior, which means you are consciously making a decision, not letting your emotions make the decision. There is a fine line between those two moments, and I would argue most of us (including myself) make more emotional decisions than we’d like to admit.
I’ve noticed over the course of my career that I have a typical “arc” to my tours. My introduction to the team is usually a light-hearted affair (or at least I try to make it so), mainly to set initial expectations that while I’m a hard worker, I also don’t take myself too seriously and inject laughter where I can. The end of the tour is a combination of trying to fit in last minute adventures wherever my family happens to be currently stationed at, as well as figuring out how to quickly get settled in a location without any advance movements (we’ve never taken househunting leave prior to arrival). Another typical episode during my tour is the “3/4 of the way complete, and then you have an obvious emotional moment that we need to talk about.” I can say with confidence this episode happens at every tour because I’ve had the same mentoring/counseling conversation with each of my supervisors. Just this week, my supervisor sat with me (he closed the door at the start, already a sign that sh!t was about to go down, hahaha!) to address my recent episode. Early in the conversation I mentioned, “Yes Sir, this isn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation about my emotions. As in literally, the words you are speaking to me have been spoken to me by multiple supervisors, usually around this same time of my tour.” I’m thankful I’ve had great supervisors who sit with me and give me the feedback I deserve, and yet somehow this conversation continues to repeat itself as my career progresses. What causes these emotional outbursts and why do they continue to repeat themselves?
Up front, I am fully aware I am a very emotional person. I jokingly call it the “emotional Avilla male syndrome”, because my father was a very emotional person, and myself and my brother did not fall far from that tree. Time will tell on how I raise my son Benjamin and now he manages himself…he is 12 and his syndrome is slowly beginning to rise. Some could call it puberty, I call it just being an Avilla boy. That being said, I believe I’ve gathered better control over my emotions over the last 10 years or and am able to channel the energy into positive actions. Being in higher (?) or more visible leadership positions has forced me to analyze my individual actions as there are more and more people looking at how I act as their leader, which will effect their growth as leaders themselves. I usually learn best from bad examples of leadership, so I try to minimize those events as much as possible. My goal is to show as many examples of doing what is right for the team, not what is right for me. You know, the whole “service before self” kind of thing.
I attribute the cause of my emotional outbursts to energy exhaustion and frustrations with unnecessary (in my eyes) workload. Squadron command tours are fun yet exhausting, and I’m exiting the 3/4 point of my tour. This point of the tour is where I’m aware of my next chapter, yet need to keep focus on my current tour and avoid burnout. At this point I’m well aware of the personalities that I work with, and which personalities require more energy than others. Most processes are well defined and our team roles are well defined to tackle any issue presented to us. Interruptions to this battle rhythm are inevitable, but if they don’t fit into the battle rhythm I tend to get irritated about them. I especially get irritated when issues involve more people than needed and draw out unnecessary energy to accomplish them. I’ll summarize these instances as “inefficiencies”, because that’s how I view them: inefficient application of time and resources. During the 3/4 point my tour, I have the tendency to have very small tolerance towards these inefficiencies and will emotionally act out at least once. I’m not unprofessional or anything, but my normal demeanor of keeping balanced energy is put aside and a more direct, terse version of myself takes actions that have good intent, yet the execution is poor. “All thrust no vector” is the term most commonly applied, hahaha! Again, I’m thankful for great supervisors who noticed I was off and checked in with me, and want to help me keep career on track as leadership is constantly evaluating my capacity to lead at the next level. These emotional outbursts can harm my “stock” with leadership, of which I’m fully aware of even prior to execution.
The fact that I’ve been given the same counseling sessions multiple times is an indicator that I’m not learning from my mistakes. Problem is that I don’t view any of these episodes as mistakes, but rather another check-in that I need to continue to work on controlling my emotional outbursts. I was 100% self-aware of the choices I made prior to making them. I was aware of how I analyzed the situation, what I saw as the inefficiency, and taking actions to immediately address the inefficiency and move forward. This degree of direct confrontation can be uncomfortable for some, but if the pressure is on me to get a job done, I will get the job done. My words and actions may take a slight departure from my normal demeanor, but my intent to do the right thing for my team never wavers. If these actions negatively effect my career, so be it. I will be a tremendous asset no matter where leadership decides to use my skills (I would be a helluva deputy snack officer, just saying). I’m not saying I’m right in every situation nor is my approach right for everyone, but my emotions and passions for leadership and teamwork will continue to be used with good intentions.