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The movie Sharknado (and believe it or not, its three sequels, with a rumored fourth in 2017) has been an unbelievable small screen success. With cameo appearances by many famous and infamous people, there is undoubtedly an element of humor in the idea of a tornado that rains sharks on major metropolitan areas. The premise of a shark-infested tornado is far-fetched, to say the least. However, there is another type of tornado that has likely affected all of us at one time or another. In fact, some reading this article may unwittingly be the tornado!
 
Years ago, I worked with a member of the executive team whose typical management style was to run from meeting to meeting with little contact with his team. In fact, he was pretty uninvolved with the daily activities of his leadership team. Then he would seemingly wake up one morning and decide that he had to get heavily involved. He would call endless meetings with all of his department heads, have daily “all-hands” meetings, and demand detailed production reports from every single person on the team. His staff would spend two weeks running around completely stressed out while he lost his temper with the individuals who were desperately trying to meet his demands. As quickly as it arrived, the storm would abate, he would go back to his uninterested routine, and things would slowly return to normal. My associate made a great comment when he said: “when he decides to manage he leaves a swath of destruction in his path; it’s like he is a Tornado Manager.”
 
Great analogy.
 
Tornados are a devastating force of nature. They strike with little to no warning, cause indiscriminate destruction and injury, and then end just about as quickly as they started leaving nothing but a trail of debris behind them.
 
The Tornado Manager can have similar traits.
 
Does this sound like a manager you know? Does it seem a little like your management style?
Either way, the good news is that these things can be addressed and minimized, if not fixed, no matter what side of this you are on. How?
The Victims
 
If you are the victim of a Tornado Manager, I feel for you. There is no question that this is a difficult situation. You are going along about your business with little to no involvement from your manager and then BOOM you are running around in complete chaos just trying to survive each day. There are some things you can do to help yourself in this situation:
  1. Batten Down the Hatches – If you are in the middle of this situation, the best you can do is weather the storm and batten down the hatches. What do I mean? Like any tornado, it is only going to last so long. Focus on the fact that this will move on shortly and that you refuse to be destroyed by this storm. To keep from getting overwhelmed through this time, make sure to make time to focus on yourself. You will need the energy to survive so take a walk before or after work, hit the gym, do something that will allow you to burn off the stress. There is no sense in letting your health to suffer for something that is temporary.
  2. Don’t Fight It – A tornado does not stop just because you are angry with it. Fighting it is like trying to punch the wind. It is futile. Resist the urge to fight back and say things like “where were you when I needed the help last week?” or “so now you decide to be a manager?” These comments just add fuel to the fire and take you from an F3 to F5 tornado in a hurry.
  3. Minimize Further Storms – “What?” you may say, “how can I avoid this, it’s them not me!” Yes and no. Yes, your manager needs to work on their style, and we will talk to them in the paragraphs below. You, however, have the ability to prevent or at least minimize these storms. How?
What I have noticed over the years is that employees of Tornado Managers tend to take advantage of their manager’s general absence. Reporting is somewhat lax, and they can often keep their manager out of the loop. This behavior is somewhat understandable, but it is not good business.
 
The impetus for your work tornado is typically a realization, to your manager, that he or she is unaware of what is going on with their department. They might have gotten a question at a board meeting or a senior leader meeting and felt embarrassed that they did not know the answer. They may have realized that their group is functioning just fine without them and they need to try and gain control again. Whatever the reason, an information void is often the cause of a management tornado.
 
Whether you feel the time is well spent, or not, providing feedback to your manager is a good idea. Send reports, update Salesforce.com, send an email, or whatever else gives you some documented proof of activity and updates.
Keep them in the loop, and the chances of a storm are minimized. If the storm still comes, you might be able to control the winds with proof of communication.
 
The Culprit
 
Have you been reading this article and recognizing that you might be the Tornado Manager? If so, you are already ahead of the curve. Identifying the problem is more than half the battle. Unfortunately, too many of your fellow tornados will not see their flaws. The good news is that you can fix the problem and with time, you can repair the damage you have caused to your team.
 
First, we will talk a little bit about what is happening with your people when you decide to touch down in the middle of the office. We have all heard of a little chemical in the brain called cortisol. Without getting too much into the science of all of this, cortisol is a chemical released in our brain that kicks in, along with some others, when the brain senses a threat. It is related to our “fight or flight” mechanism. When cortisol is released in the brain in proper amounts, it can do wonders for focusing our attention on getting ourselves out of danger. That is a good thing. The problem is that when we produce too much of this chemical, it all but shuts down our rational thought and focuses entirely on fighting back or getting out of the situation.
 
Why do we care? Well, when you, as a manager, start putting much pressure on your people their brains are releasing copious amounts of cortisol. This cortisol release can have the opposite effect from the one you were hoping to achieve. Whether you raise your voice or not, your tone is telling your people that you are not happy and expect something to change. Instead of focusing and getting results, their brain is chemically shutting down their ability to listen to you and is only thinking of how to get out of the situation, or worse yet, how to get you out of the situation. Possibly permanently.
 
Sure, you might get some results in the short-term, after one of your “all hands meeting” but it is not a permanent change. People may seem to sit up a little straighter and get things done, but that will only last as long as it takes to find another job.
 
So, how do you fix it? One of my favorite questions to ask leaders is: How do you let your people know that you really care about them? Unfortunately, this question is often met with a quiet audience. The answer is quite simple: you actually have to care about them. You may care about them, but could it be that you care more about the company and your success than that of your people? That is a question you have to answer. The thing is when you care about your people, and you put their interests in a position of great importance, you will find that you and the company end up just fine.
Caring about the well-being of your people is the starting point. Once you do that, and your people start to recognize that, you can start to have a dialogue about communication.
As was mentioned above, you might be dealing with questions that you cannot answer, because your people are not communicating with you. Those situations are not fun. I have been there, and I feel your pain. The thing is, when people know that you care about them, they are much more likely to help you avoid situations that negatively impact you. They will be much more open to a discussion about what types of reports you might need and what the frequency of those updates needs to be. They will see you as an ally, and while reporting is not often something that excites your team, they understand the need and don’t want to see you suffer because of a lack of information.
 
If you are a Tornado Manager, know that your relationship with the team has been damaged and it will take some time to heal. It can be fixed, but you must be willing be humble.
 
Tornados are bad, whether they are real, filled with sharks, or just a manager. The good news is that with some effort, the effects of the manager-based tornados can be minimized or even eliminated.
 
If you are a Tornado Manager and need some help, give us a call.
 
If you have a Sharknado, you might want to call Ian Ziering.
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