Tina Turner made a singing comeback in 1984 with her hit song, "What's Love Got to Do with It?" My husband, a family law specialist in San Francisco has recently worked with some male clients, who I call alpha males, struggling through their respective divorces. Tina Turner claims that "love is a second-hand emotion." However, from what I am hearing, anger, blame, and transference are first-hand emotions and reactions. Going through a divorce at any time is a trying and emotionally draining experience. However, the stress and tension is now exacerbated by the economic decline. Individuals who have enjoyed unfettered economic success, and the ability to buy and demand whatever they desired, are now finding their world crumbling beneath them.
After hearing my normally calm and collected husband recount stories of client blow-ups and tantrums, I wondered how other executives, faced with reversing fortunes, are behaving as heads of their companies. Are they blowing up, excessively blaming others, and acting out? Or, are they keeping their composure, remaining calm, and being accountable?
I know from my executive coaching work that as stress piles on, some executives rise to the occasion. Others turn into monsters. So what does divorce got to do with organizational tangles, the area of my expertise? Nothing really, except as a metaphor to remind us that when our worlds change, we can choose our reactions. There is a whole genre of family tangles, however.
Many years ago, I researched and taught courses in stress management. I remember reading a research study many years ago about people who had lost everything in a fire. Some pulled through and turned their lives around. Others fell apart and never recovered. What was the difference between the two? According to the researches, it was locus of control. Those who pulled through had an internal locus of control. They knew and believed that they could manage and control their reactions to external situations, and that they were the masters of their fates. Those with an external locus of control believed that they were the victim of circumstances, and were at their effect.
In her hit song, Tina turner sings, "I've been thinking of a new direction, but I have to say, I've been thinking about my own protection, it scares me to feel this way." Perhaps at the root of heightened emotional reactions is our old friend fear. I can't help but think that my husband's clients are overreacting in an effort to protect themselves because they are scared.
In many ways, we are scared. How we react is what separates us. In times like these, leaders have to not only think of a new direction. They need to actively devise a strategy and plan and lead their organizations into more promising futures.