Be the Adult: The Not so Easy Basics of Maturity in the Workplace

Not too long ago, I found myself sitting next to a gentleman on a plane and we struck a casual conversation. Turns out that he was a C-Suite executive for a mid-sized 3rd generation family owned company. When he found out what I did for a living, he began to share the struggles he was dealing with as his organization attempted to remain relevant and profitable in a shrinking market.

He shared the strategic shift that they were making and we discussed the intricate dance of changing systems. Then we got to the good stuff – the real challenge – the human element of change. He was frustrated by the mid-level management’s inability to execute on their new strategy. He was down right angry with the senior team’s unwillingness to align in leading the change.

He described how they were withholding information, undermining each other, creating road blocks, holding years long grudges, etc. Basically, he was describing my middle school “mean girls” experience but played out by grown men and women with real power over the livelihood of hundreds. He paused for a moment, and with a somewhat embarrassed note in his voice, he apologized and asked if I had ever run across a company quite so dysfunctional.

I had to laugh because what he was describing is so very, very common in companies both large and small. As most of us well know, corporations are plagued by immaturity. As we taxied to our gate, I left him with the council that I frequently give to leaders…


Expect your direct reports to behave like adults

Always and without exception

Below are a few basic guidelines for being an adult. They are super obvious, but so many of us find ourselves accidentally falling into less than adult behaviors in our work environments.

  • Say thank you and please.
  • If you won’t say it TO the person, then you shouldn’t say it ABOUT the person.
  • Practice kindness in every opportunity that presents itself and be generous in your assessment of others.
  • You don’t have to like them, but you have to find a way to respectfully work with them.
  • You need to share information, resources, and insights.
  • When you are frustrated or angry, take a moment to step away from the situation and calm down to avoid doing or saying something you may regret later.
  • It is never okay to yell or throw a temper tantrum, even in the privacy of your own office.
  • When you feel yourself really digging in on an issue, pause to ask yourself why – make sure you are being stubborn for the right reason and not because of your ego or for personal benefit.
  • If you have a problem with someone or something they have done, go talk to them about it in a calm manner and do your best to understand their perspective.
  • Even when someone mistreats you, it is not okay for you to mistreat him or her in return. It is never okay to mistreat anyone … even the royal jerk down the hall.
  • When you get your feelings hurt, take a moment to sooth your wounds and then let it go.
  • You usually think that your way is best and that people should just do things the way you want- but life is not like that. As professional adults, we have to collaborate and meet in the middle.
  • It’s not about you – it’s about your customers and employees – so get over yourself.
  • Plan for the long-term, far beyond the timeframe for which you might benefit.

Be The Adult, this is easier to say than do, especially when surrounded by peers and bosses who themselves are acting like moody teenagers. But isn’t that what leadership is about? Doing the hard things. Setting the example. Making things clearer and better for others.

Sarah Bodner, PhD is a trusted advisor and confidant to executives leading in changing environments. She is an influential systems thinker who operationalizes the critical link between employees, corporate image, and business strategy.