A Leader’s Frustration


Leadership is often born out of frustration. The result of a deep dissatisfaction with how things are and a burning desire to instigate change.  Yet the very act of stepping up to deal with the source of your frustration brings you into contact with new obstacles. While some forms of frustration can be channeled for good there are times when our frustrations lead to distraction and discouragement.

When you become frustrated your first response may be to find the source of the problem outside of yourself, to find someone or something to blame. However, much of the frustration you feel can be attributed to your own expectations and beliefs about what is happening to you and to how you choose to respond.

When you are frustrated you are prone to making poor choices and to acting out your frustration with others. You might look for quick ways to remedy your discomfort that can be shortsighted and compound the problems you were trying to resolve in the first place.

Learning to recognize the source of your frustration and deal with it effectively will help you to clear your mind and emotion so that you are empowered to live, lead and serve more effectively. The inner strength, adaptability and consistency you develop will inspire trust and confidence in others.

7 common sources of frustration (also known as the 7 Deadly “Shoulds”):

Control – and the belief that you should be able to fix people and prevent problems

Conflict – and the expectation that everyone should agree with you (and each other)

Communication – and the expectation that everyone should hear and understand your message

Change – and the belief that things should slow down and return to normal (whatever that is)

Criticism – and the belief that people should like you and your ideas

Complexity – and the expectation you should be able to figure it out

Choices – and the belief that decisions should be easy

This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list but hopefully it gave you pause to consider what might be driving some of the frustration you experience in your day.

So what to do?

  1. Examine your “shoulds” – start paying attention to the situations that frustrate you and find out if they are coming from beliefs and expectations that set you up to experience this over and over again. There are times it is appropriate to be frustrated but more often than not you can trace it back to one of these mental maps.
  2. Reframe the experience – Jim Rohn used to say, “instead of frustrated try being fascinated”. You can change your emotional response by changing the words you use to describe the situation. When you begin to feel frustrated try to catch yourself and decide to see the situation differently. You can decide that your frustration requires thoughtful action or a new perspective.
  3. Ask for feedback – Sometimes we aren’t aware how our frustrations are showing up to others. They may be walking on egg shells or withholding information from you because they’ve learned that certain situations “push your buttons”. You might be surprised to learn how your behavior is affecting the team. As you try to improve ask for feedback on your progress.
  4. Rinse and repeat.

Frustration is a natural reaction to a world that is messy. You don’t have to let it control you or your day. By observing the situations that frustrate you, fearlessly examining their source and responding to them appropriately you will reduce stress for yourself and others and expand your influence.

For more on this subject here’s a great post from HBR on “Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity”.

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