I was rude to the guy at the Apple Store: When change leaders have a bad day

This week I was rude to the guy at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store.

I feel terrible about it.

Even though he was not listening to my history of the problem, and even though he was being smug (at least, he seemed darn smug by my smug-o-meter, which is always on high-alert when I enter that loud, bright store of proudly sleek and pricey stuff), and even though this was the third time I had to carry my heavy still-not-working monitor, sorry, display, through a shopping mall to drop it off, there was no excuse for me snapping at him.

It was a quick moment of unquiet desperation, a “That’s not what the person on the phone said” kind of comment. Over quickly, but still far from calm and gracious.

I try to hold myself to a high standard in interpersonal interactions. In other words, I try not to be a dick. I try to walk the walk of optimistic future-focused problem-solving that is key to my work with leaders of change, and to their work with their colleagues to improve work culture and performance.

I want to be one of the good guys. I’m an optimistic person who is patient and offers solutions and tries to be less sarcastic than is normal for me.

But on Tuesday evening, I was rude to the guy who was trying to help fix my $%!!, *@#$!%, !!&#@$ expensive screen that helps me get my work done without hunching over a laptop all day.

And now, three days later, I’m trying to take the lesson and move on.

The lesson is something like this, and I’m talking about you now, not just about my thwarted cranky self:

It’s okay for the people who make the good stuff happen, the people who create forward momentum and exude confident optimism, the people who contribute the most to a trusting, collaborative work culture, to have a bad day. It’s okay to be temporarily less able to be and do all the wonderful things all at once.

You are human. You will have bad days ( … weeks, months … ), and it’s nothing to feel guilty about or turn into an existential crisis. You are still the leader you were when you were better-rested or less ham-strung by bureaucracy or your personal life was a little less busy and challenging. When people weren’t on your last nerve. You’ll get your positive momentum back. Here are some thoughts (mantras even, if you swing that way) to help you be realistic and maintain your leadership presence when things are tough:

Let yourself be human. You’re not that special, and that’s a good thing. Don’t beat yourself up for having a bad day.

Be aware that you are not repping your best change-leader self. Self-awareness will help you manage your emotional presence even without any conscious effort. Which is cool, because when we have bad days, effort is in short supply. If you think others will notice your bad mood (Apple Store guy’s eyes got big and his head gave that little jerk backward), limit the damage. Don’t sulk in the meeting. Don’t snap at your boss. Anxiety and stress are contagious, and if you, the “let’s go, team!” person, are peevish or grim, people will think “oh, look, even she realizes there’s too much work to do around here.” (See “Come clean” below.)

Get the support you need. Talk to a friend. Problem-solve or just vent. If you need to vent, make it brief. The happiness people say too much venting makes things worse.

Take care of yourself. Take a walk around the block or get some kind of exercise, even if you are too busy. Take a long lunch, even if you are too busy. Take three deep breaths every time you feel stress and/or that crap attitude bubble up.

Be patient with yourself. This also allows you to be patient with everyone else, which is crucial for sustained trust and progress over the long haul.

Come clean. “I’m having a rough time today. But of course I’m still very committed to Priorities A, B, and C, and to Projects D, E, and F.” If you can, and the rough patch isn’t just one bad day, share the work while you manage your rough patch. Let someone else facilitate that meeting.

Just get through it. Keep your head down as much as you can. Or fake it, if you’re good at faking it. If it’s more than a day or two’s rough patch, take a day off.

Every now and then, most crusaders for the good need to hear that you don’t have to be perfect all the time. It’s not reasonable, and again, you aren’t that special and that’s a good thing. If you needed this permission right about now, here it is.

If everything is going well these days, and you are feeling fine with your imperfections, that’s fantastic. And you have had a better week than me. Maybe you know someone who could use this message, or you want to bookmark this for when you do need it.