The ‘F’ words of the modern workplace.

The ‘F’ words of the modern workplace.

Fighting, Feelings, Frustration, Fear, saving Face, Failing – that’s a lot of F words for the modern leader to deal with!

At a recent leadership summit I attended, the participants were asked to name the one issue that was preventing their companies from achieving rapid growth. Without exception, the answer was people.

  • People fighting
  • People’s feelings
  • People getting frustrated
  • People being fearful of change
  • People trying to save face
  • People failing to take responsibility.

So I asked this group of business leaders a simple question: How equipped are you for handling the effing tough times? The response was quite staggering. They aren’t. These are skilled, trained and highly accomplished business leaders. However, the F words were quite literally the hardest thing that they deal with every day. They described them as relentless and exhausting. These F words take up time, they waste valuable resources and according to the CEO’s that I met, they are impeding growth. As a mediator, I see these issues every day. Unfortunately, I am asked to resolve situations once they are at an explosive stage and the protagonists are engaged in a war of words and a blame game. The parties also blame the leadership for failing to act quickly enough or for failing to be courageous when dealing with an effing hard issue. Mediation works well in these situations, but I am left with a strong sense that a lot more could have been done at an earlier stage. 

Click to download: Critical tools for leaders to deal with the ‘effing’ tough stuff.


The consequences of the 5 most common leadership responses during the ‘effing’ tough times

As is so often the case in life, we get the behaviours we deserve. Each of the above leadership habits can have complex and often unintended consequences:

  • Disengagement, absence, presenteeism and attrition.
  • Toxic office syndrome – gossiping, office division and corrosive behaviours
  • Stress tension and anxiety leading to high levels of sickness absence and high employee absence.
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and isolation. We also see a fall in empathy. I call this the empathy deficit of the modern business.
  • Fear.

It doesn’t have to be this way!Leaders can secure Better Resolutions during the ‘effing’ tough times by applying some basic skills and approaches in their work. These skills aren’t rocket science, they are skills that most of us possess and will use every day. I increasingly find myself being asked to train leaders to help them secure Better Resolutions. I have recently developed a leadership programme of that name to help leaders get better outcomes and drive better business relationships.

The 5 most common leadership responses during the ‘effing’ tough times

The F words are complex and tough to deal with and yes they can be relentless and exhausting. However, in the absence of a coherent message for our managers and leaders on how to deal with problems, they tend to rely on 5 bad habits. Here are the 5 bad habits that I observe leaders adopting during the ‘effing’ tough times:

The ostrich. Ignore it and hope that it will go away.The judge. Tell people what to do and apply sanctions when they don’t do it. Arbitrating disputes and resolving problems on a case by case basis.The nurse. Put a plaster on the situation, say a few kind words and move on to the next crisis.The ventriloquist. Use others (usually less senior managers who are even less able to cope) to deal with the situation on their behalf. Some leaders call this delegation, some employees call it abrogation.The soldier. Attack being the best form of defense – strike once and strike hard. Humiliate, punish and leave no-one in any doubt about who’s the boss and what is expected.


– David Liddle

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