Fireworks in the Workplace

Firework in the WorkplaceHappy Fourth of July Holiday Week!

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, after the Continental Congress had decided to proclaim the American colonies independent from Great Britain, “The day [commemorating this proclamation] will be most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, bonfires and illuminations [fireworks] from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Fireworks to celebrate America’s Independence Day may have been a great idea on Adams’s part, however, fireworks don’t generally work at work.

As an executive coach, I often see how leaders shoot themselves in the foot by losing their composure, then saying things and acting in ways that are perceived as disrespectful by their boss, peers, direct reports, or customers. Their behavior ends up “shooting off fireworks.” “Fireworks” behavior dramatically—and negatively—impacts their ability to lead others, create trust, build collaborative relationships, coach others, and create a positive environment where employees are engaged and inspired.

Leaders are held to a standard set forth by their company Values. Typically these Values include treating others with respect, showing care for people, demonstrating integrity, and putting people first. Leaders are expected to be role models for the company values. Leaders set the tone for what is acceptable and what is not; in other words, “as above, so below.” When a leader shoots off fireworks by saying or doing something inappropriate—as interpreted by others—all credibility is lost and, as a result, the ability to lead others is diminished.

Today on CNN I saw a replay of a press conference where Governor Christie of New Jersey had asked reporters to stick to the topic of a water treatment emergency. One reporter went “off topic” and Christie asked the reporter, “Are you stupid?” and then called him an “idiot.” Was this OK? Was the Governor’s loss of composure mean, rude, and disrespectful or was it honest, authentic, and simply hard core?

In my opinion, any leader, who by definition is a role model and influences many, should hold his “fireworks” even if he is not in the public eye constantly as this leader is. He could have said something like, “Your questions are out of line and I am not going to talk about [it] right now.”

While it may feel good to the leader to set off “fireworks,” mean, rude, and disrespectful behavior has never gained any leader more followers.

In your opinion:
Is it OK to set off your fireworks at work and blurt things out sometimes?

What is the impact when someone in a leadership role in your company does that?


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