Byron's Babbles

Distress Patterns

Posted in Coaching, Education, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 14, 2014

IMG_0612.JPG “Unfortunately, you don’t just have people on your staff; you also have distress patterns. The art of managing people includes the challenge of managing their distress patterns; people are very different from their distress patterns.” This statement by Dorothy Stoneman, President, YouthBuild USA is so true. Leading a school staff or any other group involves managing irrational distress patterns in other people, stress in yourself, and attacks on you. Being mindful of these distress patterns will enable you, as a leader, to navigate your organization.

I am a major believer in the power of context. With distress patterns, context certainly matters. Everyone experiences negative and positive feelings. The tendency to respond to a certain type of situation with a specific emotion, the intensity of our emotional responses, the ways in which we express our feelings, the balance between positive and negative feelings, and the duration of a particular emotion are all characteristic of each person as an individual. People differ, then, in regard to the inner experience (feeling) and in the outward experience (behavior) of emotions. I am learning how important understanding these distress patterns is. We all have behavior patterns and attitudes rooted in painful past experiences.

Sometimes these distress patterns undermine our ability to lead or function as a team. You can tell a distress pattern when you see one because it is behavior that is repetitive, that occurs whether or not it is appropriate for the situation, whether or not it achieves positive goals, whether or not it hurts other people or oneself. It is not flexible; it almost always occurs under certain circumstances. What we have to realize as leaders is that behind every distress pattern is a past experience that causes a repetitive or unproductive behavior develop. What I learned from Dorothy Stoneman is, “it is always useful to separate people from patterns, never blaming people for patterns they happen to have, always relating to the people rather than the patterns.” Remember, these patterns come from their past personal and professional experiences.

As turnaround school leader I have experienced these distress patterns related to the culture of the organizations. Lack of trust, self serving leadership patterns, divisiveness. personal attacks or other negative behavioral patterns can be major detriments to developing a positive environment. Sometimes leaders are criticized not based on the decisions made, but on the distress patterns experienced in the past. Fair and unfair criticism, including attacks, will come to anyone who takes the visible leadership in any situation. It’s part of the territory. We need to stand up for anyone willing to take, in good faith, for good purposes, the stress of being in charge.

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. krisphillipsblog said, on July 8, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    This makes so much sense when you look at group dynamics and behaviors in stressful situations. I would love to explore and learn more about this!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: