A well-known surgeon was asked about his reputation for harsh and critical words for the teams that assisted his work in the operating room. These eruptions often occurred at critical moments when his instructions and actions depended on everyone executing flawlessly. The surgeon replied, “Everyone knows that’s not me speaking. That’s the situation speaking.”
Leaders too often excuse poor behavior by claiming that the situation demands it from them. The truth is that the situation never speaks. Leaders do. When leaders direct criticisms and demeaning remarks toward others during execution, the result is less, not more.
None of us performs better when leaders distract us with their barbs and strident words. The more likely result is for others to become paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake, thereby inciting more tongue lashing. More importantly, we expect those insults next time, which prepares us to brace and defend ourselves, not focus on the actions we need to excel.
Attributing our behavior to the circumstances or situations we confront is an easy out to excuse bad behavior. The best leaders steadfastly refuse to allow situations to dictate the style in which they engage others. Respect and trust can be expressed in any situation — unless you believe people are tools, not peers and colleagues.