We’ve all been there. You’re in the midst of a stressful situation, things aren’t going your way, people aren’t doing what you think they should be doing.
You might have snapped at someone or lost your temper. Maybe it was some sort of panic attack. Losing your composure can take on many forms and none of them are glamourous.
For those of you who consider yourselves to be thoughtful and considerate leaders, losing your composure can feel terrible. You’ve made an effort to be supportive and now you’ve lost your cool.
Have you ruined everything? All the groundwork you did, and now you’re a hypocrite. You aren’t a good leader at all, you’ve blown it.
Well…no. You haven’t. Take a deep breath.
As the artist Henry Matisse reportedly said:
“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”
So let’s look at the upside of losing your composure as a leader.
Losing your composure as a leader shows you care
Ever heard the saying that you’re in trouble when your most passionate employees go quiet?
Passionate people stop speaking up and trying to improve things when they realise that it’s a lost cause. They have been beaten and now they are going to withdraw from the battle.
Well, good news for you then. You lost your composure and shouted at someone. But you know what? If you really didn’t care about what you were doing, you’d never do that. There is nothing worse than looking around a team and seeing nothing but apathy for the work at hand. At least you cared about what you were doing.
A caveat here though. Just because you care, doesn’t mean you can go around being nasty to everybody around you. But it does, in my opinion, grant you forgiveness for the (very) occasional brain snap when things don’t go right.
Losing your composure as a leader forces you to check yourself
Losing your composure is sometimes a great sign that you aren’t satisfied with the work you are doing. It doesn’t happen often, but in the past when I’ve become so frustrated that I start acting in ways I don’t like, it’s a warning.
Make sure you are listening to what your brain is telling you. Repeatedly losing your composure is a sign that you simply aren’t handling what your workplace has to offer.
This does not necessarily mean you aren’t cut out to be a leader. It may mean that your standards are too high for your current employer to be able to meet. Maybe it means that your workplace is not able to improve at the pace you would like it to. It could mean that the capability of the people around you is not strong enough. Perhaps it means you aren’t comfortable in this particular role and culture.
When you are losing your composure repeatedly, heed the warning.
Losing your composure as a leader lets you apologise
Sometimes when I work with people who are always cool, calm and collected, I do wonder whether they really care about what they’re doing. Sometimes I like to see some fire which shows that they are at least a little invested in what they do.
However, I only like to see the occasional fire when people are generally civil to each other. In the past, when I have lost my composure in a stressful situation, I apologise afterwards to anybody I may have upset.
Losing your composure is OK on the odd occasion. But only as long as you are aware that it is happening and you take steps to repair any damage you may have caused.
When people see you apologise for losing your composure, they will see a different side of you. They will see a leader who knows they did wrong and are not too proud to make things right. This shows character. There will always be situations where you lose your composure, but recovering from these instances is going to be your greatest asset.
Apologising when you were wrong is a great skill, and it keeps a leader’s feet on the ground. Some people are too proud to apologise, even if they know they’re wrong. Others know that sometimes you need to make amends when you’ve done the wrong thing.
Look on the bright side
Is there a bright side to losing your composure? Yes.
Is losing your composure a good thing ? Not especially.
Losing your composure can be instructive, teaching you lessons about what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. These lessons should not be underestimated and should be looked out for.
Even thoughtful leaders may lose their composure from time to time. They will be the leaders who will look to understand the reasons for their frustration and to make amends for it.
You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t
Because sometimes, you won’t.
– Dr Seuss, from “Oh, the places you’ll go!”