"How far should I let a leader go with me when they are frustrated? Should I shut them down or give them some room?"May 18, 2023
One of my favorite things about people is that no two are exactly alike.
Some like to process quietly for a time. Others need to get it out in the open right now.
Enneagram 8, high D, high strung people have been some of my biggest challenges and some of my best leaders and friends.
But they need to vent. They NEED to.
With one of my best leaders, you could set your watch by his need to vent. Usually late in the week, a little after lunch with a 20 oz Mountain Dew in hand and no scheduled meeting he’d show up at my door and say “Gotta minute?”. And when my schedule allowed, I would invite him in and get ready to hear the frustrations of his week.
Some were valid, others not so much. Some of his frustrations were exaggerated. His volume would increase as he went into second gear, usually walking around or trying to sit even though his shaking leg refused to be still. He wasn’t angry, not really. He had simply been working at 90 mph all week, bumping into things and people, getting stuff done. He cared deeply and wasn’t happy with delays or distractions. He just needed to verbally process it all out loud.
My job wasn’t to correct or refute or ask too many questions right then. It was to LISTEN. It was to volley his issues back over the net for him to smack them again. This process was just part of his high speed engine.
The talk would last 30 minutes to an hour. And this was one of my top leaders, so not just any person stopping by my office unannounced would have gotten to do that. But I had asked him to do the impossible, to forge new trails to us winning. He had earned it.
Then the next day during a regularly scheduled meeting early in the day, I’d tell him what I heard him venting about. Not just what he said but what he was trying to say. I would push back on exaggerations or complaints with no data. We’d agree on the one or two things that were legitimately slowing him down and make a plan to remove the obstacles.
Was there a more efficient way for us to list obstacles and remove them? Absolutely.
But here’s the magic for high strung, verbal processing, linebackers. The fact that I didn’t immediately shut the conversation down and tell him to schedule it like everyone else told him he was one of my stars. And he knew he was exaggerating...and that I knew it. Hyperbole was an art form for him.
But I listened.
Sometimes I laughed if it was funny. I engaged him. And some of what he said might’ve gotten him fired if it had been heard by another leader.
But venting was part of his DNA the way a diesel truck blows black smoke when it hauls a big payload. And the fact that I let him do all of this built trust…lots of trust. He knew that I understood him, that I had boundaries and wouldn’t let him just run off the cliff; but that I would give him the extra room to run and give him the outlet to vent.
Don’t be afraid to let your people vent.
Venting often comes at the wrong time, with the wrong words, in the wrong tone. It’s messy. But if you’re looking for it and value it, you’ll be ready.