Keeping your cool is a skill worth developing

May 24, 2013

Nashville Business Journal

Controlling your emotions is a crucial leadership skill.

When you lead other people, situations can quickly become tense and prompt you to say things in the moment that you may regret later.

I’ll never forget one incident that drove this point home more than any other in my career. Working in a high-stress environment, I got on an employee’s case about a trivial matter. He exploded at me. Even though he was the one who lost it, I knew I was off base for provoking the argument. I recognized my insensitivity to the substantial stress he was under at the time.

Before the day was over, I went to his work area with a sincere apology. We patched things up and were soon back to a normal business relationship. Looking back, I realize that a little common sense and compassion on my side would have avoided the whole situation.

The point is, it’s not easy to stay cool in the everyday mix of fast-paced business. And if you are a Type A personality who likes to control the environment, it’s even harder.

We’ve all had those times when we lose it, blowing a fuse at a peer, team member or even the boss.

Coping mechanisms

The obvious way to avoid these situations is to use self-control. But that’s often easier said than done. Here are some ways to begin instituting more everyday restraint:

• Be quiet. When you feel emotions getting to you in a tense business setting, start to recognize this feeling and discipline yourself to be silent. Take a deep breath and tell yourself to just shut up.

• Target triggers. After a heated event or throughout a typical day, try to analyze what triggers your emotions. Maybe even write it down. You’ll start to put in place internal trip switches to control these reactions before they reach critical mass.

• Walk away. My personal cure for highly emotional situations is to be quiet, excuse myself and walk away. Like a “time out” for young children, a walk outside in the fresh air works wonders. Take the opportunity to cool down, think more rationally about the situation and consider ways that you could conduct yourself more appropriately.

• Face it. The same day, try to return to the topic that created the conflict. Avoiding touchy situations often causes underlying tension, which could very well lead to more long-term difficulty than the original issue. The quicker you patch things up, the less pain there is on both sides and the sooner things can return to normal.

Really good leaders find creative ways to stay cool even in the most stressful times. How cool are you?

Joe Scarlett is founder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute and retired chairman and CEO of Tractor Supply Co. He can be reached at joe@scarlettleadership.com.

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