Friday, January 3, 2014

Leadership Principle: Deal with Anger by Removing Your Buttons!

Undoubtedly, all of us have one individual who likes to "push our buttons." We walk into out office first thing in the morning and notice that the voice-mail light on our phone is flashing, and a sudden feeling of foreboding  overcomes us. Most of our difficult days seem to begin with the flashing voice-mail button, so there is no excitement in pushing the buttons to hear the message that awaits. Once we do, the voice of that one person who seems to bring out the worst in us, bursts into our hearing, and we can feel the tightness, the anger arising with that thought, "Oh know, here we go again."

This incident illustrates so well what happens to us in our roles as administrators. We all have those individuals who, because of our history with them, "push our buttons" and have the power to turn our perfectly good day to bad, sometimes with just the sound of their voice. These people inhabit our lives just by the very nature of our being leaders. Unlike many of those who work in our buildings, we can't pass the buck and say,"This is above our pay grade." We have to face the music. We have no choice but deal with the person head on. Besides, is it a courageous act of leadership to just pass the  buck to someone else?

What if, though, we could find a way to do what Buddhist teacher Thubten Chodron describes as a process of "Removing Our Buttons?" She writes:
"Rather than acting according to our habitual pattern of blaming others for our anger, we can note that our buttons are being pushed depends on two factors: other's actions and our having buttons. If we remove our buttons, there won't be anything for others to push."
How novel a concept! I personally never thought we could "remove our buttons." I have long thought our buttons are our buttons and we just have to live with them. The truth is, that is simply not true. At the heart of living peacefully is being able to remove those triggers in our lives that bring about automatic and habitual anger. We can do that, and as school leaders, unless we want to live under the power of others by giving them "buttons to push," we can do so simply. According to Thubten Chodron, our removal of these buttons is simply removing our "automatic and habitual responses that so often get us tangled in cycles of anger and conflict with others." It really is that anger that sometimes gets us into trouble; it's our reactions that complicate our problems.

So, how do we get rid of our buttons? How do we remove those automatic reactions to the flashing light of our voice-mail? Well, one way we don't is by suppressing and telling our selves we have no right to be angry. How we begin to get rid of the anger is almost so simple, we can't but think, "Why didn't I think of that in the first place!" It really is simple. We do the following:

  • We acknowledge and accept that anger when it appears. We give ourselves permission to feel the anger. Permission doesn't mean we take rash action; it means we let the anger be inside of ourselves. Whoever said you can't pause and just let ourselves feel the anger? There is no law that demands we act on our anger.
  • Then we simply recognize that the anger is temporary. It does not ever last forever, that's why we were told when young to sometimes sleep on things. Distance in time allows anger to dissolve.
By giving ourselves permission to be angry instead of resisting, we will often find that they anger simply goes away. By pausing and avoiding reacting to our anger, we do, in effect, remove "our buttons." How frustrating it can be for someone who wants to push your buttons, and that they can't find any to push. How's that for Friday leadership wisdom?

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