The Middle

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“Almost every issue of leadership and the difficulties that accompany it can be framed in terms of emotional triangles, including motivation, clarity, decision making and resistance to change.” – William Friedman

In business there exists relational triangles.  It is becoming less common that two person relationships  exist.  Typically the building blocks of a business consist of triad relationships.   As a leader it is critical to understand the emotional triangles that exist.  These triangles are not wrong, they exist for a purpose.  The purpose is to help each member of the triangle to manage their stress and anxiety.

The concept is outlined in more detail in Friedman’s book “Failure of Nerve.”  Friedman outlines the importance of a leader to maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of navigating these emotional triangles.

Consider the image above, letters “A,B & C” represent a person or an entity.  For example, “A” could be you and “B” could be your boss and “C” could be your job, your direct report or a peer.   As person “A” you are responsible for the relationship between “A” and “B” and not responsible for “C” and “B”. This type of boundary acumen allows for greater stress reduction and strong relational connection between you and “C” and “B”.

There are 3 Warning Signs that may indicate that you are now in the “Middle” and therefore have bypassed your effectiveness as a leader.

1.) Relational Gridlock:  The metaphor of cars in traffic is exactly what can happen in a relationship. You sense that you are making very little or no progress.  You have goals that are unmet and expectations not satisfied.  The other individuals in the triangle are experiencing the same type of ‘stuck’ feeling.  If you are experiencing gridlock then there is a good chance that you are in the middle.

2.) Anxiety vs. True Connection:  If your relationships are anchored only in dealing with the day’s anxiety instead of truly connecting, then you are most likely in the compromising position of the middle.  True connection feels great.  You are making progress and talking about the path forward.  Anxiety anchored relationships have low trust, carry with it unpredictability and lack direction.

3.) Messiah Built Leadership: As “B” and “C” come to you asking for help in their unhealthy relationship, then you are compromised “IF” you step in seeking to control, coerce or push them to resolution.  The minute you ‘own’ what is rightfully theirs you have taken on the role of Messiah.

To stay out of the middle of the triangle consider the following approaches:

1.) “I” vs. “You” Statements:  I feel concerned or I observe this behavior vs. You did this and you did that.

2.) Don’t Own:  Resist the temptation through excellent boundary setting to own the third relationship.  Instead ask questions to help them discuss their relationship and make progress.

3.) Calm vs. Anxious:  Stay calm in the midst of the crisis vs. owning the entire situation.  This approach will allow you to stay well differentiated.

What emotional triangles are you navigating?  How do you respond to the anxiety and emotions of others?  What are you carrying emotionally that you do not need to carry?