Dealing with Immaturity
When I get exasperated, I ramble. This particular day I was rambling to my counselor about the frustration I was feeling with my own growth challenges. After patiently waiting for me to finish my blathering, she shared a concept that I had never considered – emotional maturity doesn’t necessarily parallel our physical maturity. Perhaps that should have been obvious, but like many others I had made a false assumption that we naturally grow in emotional maturity, as we get older. My counselor proceeded to explain that while our bodies naturally grow into adulthood, our emotions could stay trapped in childish patterns if we haven’t been given the tools to mature in our emotional health. That explanation provided some relief from the frustration I felt for the immaturity I was recognizing in my life and at the same time made me aware of the amount of work that was ahead of me.
I’m sure your leadership landscape is peppered with the scars of immaturity. The frustrated remark you made to your boss. The snarky comment you said to a co-worker. The door you slammed. The meeting you stormed out of. The cold shoulder you gave someone who didn’t support your initiative.
Not only is your leadership marred with your less than stellar moments, you’ve been on the receiving end of these emotionally unhealthy zingers as well. The scathing email from a volunteer who disagreed with your decision. The passive-aggressive tweet from a staff member following a difficult conversation. The employee who always has an excuse for under-performance.
Since we’re in the business of people, there is no escaping the fact that we’re bound to deal with immaturity from time to time. It’s important to understand that leading yourself and others in emotional growth is part of leadership. I’ve spent too many years frustrated at myself and others, expecting different behavior rather than engaging where we are and seeking to lead us better. When we see immaturity in our self and in others, we have a responsibility as leaders to call it out.
When we encounter immaturity in our team, we must choose to engage. To ignore unhealthy patterns only serves to support greater dysfunction throughout the team.
Here are my thoughts and suggestions for getting the maturity train going in right direction:
Look in the mirror.
Reflect on some of your own immature moments. Do you see patterns? Do you know what triggers your emotionally unhealthy reactions? You must lead yourself well to lead others better. Evaluate yourself first to see where your emotional immaturity may also be impacting the team.
Even with your best intentions, you still may have blind spots. Seek out a trusted friend, spouse, or Christian counselor to help you assess what you can’t see on your own.
Call it out.
When you see immature behavior in yourself or those you lead, call it out. Kindly. Gently. In a God-honoring way, but don’t ignore it! When you catch yourself tempted to react in an unhealthy way, slow down. Consider the feedback you’ve received from others and change your course.
When you see immaturity in others, employ the counsel from Matthew 18:15 to engage the conversation. With love and care, and with a spirit of unity, seek to share what you’ve observed in the other person. Challenge them in love, encourage them with hope, and pray with them for growth.
Seek to establish a culture with your team that creates open dialogue about the areas in which growth is necessary. Make it safe for them to bring their struggles to you. Open communication helps to create a culture where concerns, frustrations, issues, or ideas are shared before they fester into emotionally unhealthy reactions.
Define a growth plan.
Growth doesn’t happen without deliberate action. Once you’ve identified patterns or triggers of emotional unhealth, create methods for accountability. Consider next steps, such as professional counseling, a small group study devoted to growth in the area of need, weekly check-in conversations, books to read or study, etc. Everyone learns differently, but growth rarely occurs without a plan.
Leading yourself and others to emotional health is perhaps the most challenging leadership work you will do. Skills and culture can be taught and caught, whereas maturity must be coached and mentored. It will take time. It will take patience. It will require tough conversations, but it’s also extremely rewarding. Embrace the opportunity to lead yourself and others to growth that impacts every aspect of our lives.