How Mindset and Habit Contribute to Dysfunction

Remodeling our house after living in it for two decades taught me how easily clutter creeps in and contributes to ineffectiveness. It was painful to face the reality that I had belts I couldn’t wrap around my waist, shoes I would never wear again and dozens of black pants and skirts.

When we live in an environment, we become blind to the weak spots. Facing those blind spots can be either the truth that hurts or the truth that sets you free. My first thought was, “We need more storage space.”

But the truth is, unless I change my mindset and habits, the clutter and excess will creep back in a matter of months. My mindset must change from “we need more storage” to the idea of “less is more.” The new habits include not keeping things past their usefulness, and not buying more than needed.

The same principle is true for leaders in organizations. There are mindsets and habits that contribute to organizational clutter and personal ineffectiveness, but because we have lived in the environment for so long, we fail to recognize the root problems.

This post identifies a mindset and habit that often contributes to organizational dysfunction and productivity loss for leaders at various levels.

Mindset: Anger is bad

Most of us are afraid of anger, so we suppress. Suppressed anger manifests as passive-aggressive behaviors such as sarcasm, avoidance or dropping the ball to make someone else’s life a little more difficult. Many of my previous coaching clients have told me they have an anger problem. After inquiring, I find that they have categorized anger as a problem because they blow up or because they feel intense resentment.

I reframe the mindset for my client by saying, “This is not an anger problem. This is an awareness problem.” My client is unaware of the moment they feel agitated or irritated and they instead suppress the emotion. They say “yes” when they need to say “no” and they agree to things that are out of alignment with their values.

What to do instead. Stop categorizing anger as a negative emotion. Stop judging your own anger as “bad.” Instead, recognize anger for what it is: a powerful energy that gives you clues as to the next step you need to take. Most of the time, anger is a sign that a boundary needs to be set. Or, anger can be a sign that you are living out of alignment with your highest values in order to please someone else.

Once you get realigned and have the courage to speak truth or set an appropriate boundary anger subsides dramatically. The point is, anger can be used for good when you know what it means and how to capitalize on it.

Habit: Getting distracted by listening

On a recent coaching call with a client, my client said, “I have an employee who has come to complain about another employee’s sales figures.” I asked the question,” What did you do?” The answer was, “I just listened.”

Then a few days later at a workshop the same issue arose with a director, “Julie comes to me to complain about Juanita and Juniata comes to me to complain about Julie. I am caught in the middle.” When I asked “what did you do?” The answer was the same, “I just tried to listen.”

There is a time to listen and a time to re-direct. Listening to employee drama wastes your time and does not help your employee. The fact is, they will continue to come to you and need your ear if you are overly interested or if you continue to do their emotional work.

What to do instead. Stop listening to distractions and drama. When Julie complains about Juanita, redirect by asking good questions. Here are a couple to try out.

  1. What did Juanita say when you talked with her?
  2. What is your intention for telling me this?

You will find that your employee has not talked with her peer and she probably doesn’t know what her intention is by telling you. Never believe anything at face value what one employee says about another. You are only hearing half of the story. This behavior is called tattling.

The point here is that your job as a leader is to promote personal responsibility, not be their therapist. Help the employee to get clear on the end result. Next, coach the employee to have effective conversations with his or her counterpart. As a last resort, you may have to call both employees to your office and mediate. In the end, you want employees to become empowered, not dependent.


There are many mindsets and habits that contribute to organizational clutter and leadership ineffectiveness. Because we live in the culture, we are often blind to the opportunities and changes needed to transform the culture, but facing the truth can set you free and dramatically improve leadership effectiveness and productivity.

Article originally published via SmartBrief.

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011), “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015) and “7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice” (Greenbranch 2018).  Download “The Bottom Line: How Executive Conversations Drive Results.” Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and at