We Can Hold onto It – or Let It Go


We Can Hold onto It – or Let It Go

As executive leadership coaches, VIM Executive Coaching has worked with all types of executives across all industries, from hi-tech to sports. Good executive leaders possess the same skills regardless of industry and, by the way, industries do not necessarily define style. For example, we have been in the executive offices of NFL football teams that, aside from logos, here and there, were remarkably sedate and very much business-like, while one biotech company we visited, was bursting with acrimony, contempt and reaction.

It leads us to comment this week about what could be termed the “forgiven” and the “unforgiven” in executive leadership. Another way of putting it, might be those executives who hold onto anger or those who are able to move on from it.

The Association

It was an executive from an association with a connection to a major government agency who took it on himself to improve his executive leadership skills. It is always admirable when someone voluntarily decides to become more effective.

In terms of the pressures on this executive leader, his career was relatively stress-free. While he had, as any other leader, daily and weekly challenges with a staff of 12 and a board of directors, neither his industry nor his mission was so challenging as to yield huge “tension levels.” While he was a fairly affable person, a quiet person by nature, he admitted that within him was a lot of anger and conflict.

He talked of a board that was largely apathetic and unsophisticated, a staff that he felt was unresponsive and an industry, in general, that was behind the times both technologically and in its mission.

As we listened and began suggesting a course of training we could consider, he again “admitted” (we are certainly not a law firm!) that he held onto anger and it was hard for him to forgive. 

For example, when an employee made a mistake or even a slight violation of association policy, he held it against them and could not let it go.

“I demand perfection,” he said. “If I don’t get a complete effort, or if a policy is violated, I don’t forget it.”

He also admitted his reaction to minor infractions has led to good employees walking away to find new opportunities.

Perfection, of course, is an elusive target. It is something we strive for, but we are all a balance of decisions, good and bad, and actions, positive and negative. Most of us have a lot more in the positive column. At the end of the day, in evaluating those in our lives, we should understand not everyone (in fact, no one) can be perfect. If we hold onto anger as judgment it will affect every decision we make as leaders.

Mindfulness as a Solution

If we expect perfection of others, should we not also expect it of ourselves? Unless the executive leader is completely inauthentic, he or she will realize, they too have hidden and not so hidden, imperfections. If we are mindful of our flaws, can we not also be mindful that flaws exist within all of us?

The point here, is that the anger that is held onto for relatively minor mistakes will do us little good. “Letting go,” through mindfulness techniques enables the executive leader to move on and relate to others in the organization on a more human level. In turn, losing a lot of pent up anger and stress – and accepting others for being human is wonderful for the leader as well.

Obviously, there are indeed “mistakes” much more than mistakes. We would not suggest ignoring a major policy violation. That certainly would be in another category. However, making copies of a child’s monthly cafeteria lunch schedule, is not equivalent of using stolen credit card numbers to purchase a Lexus! The mindful executive should discern the difference and easily move on with a friendly conversation.

VIM Executive Coaching teaches mindfulness techniques and helps executives in better coping with the stresses of the present-day work world. In holding onto our anger, we hold onto the elusive concept of perfection. It is an impossible task.

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Bruce Wolk