Rollercoasters. I love them.
Recently, while speaking in Orlando, I took the family to Universal Studios. I was super excited to discover the new Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
This is going to be AWESOME, I thought to myself as I inched my way in line closer and closer to the boarding platform.
I had waited in line for the insanity. I reveled in anticipation of one rise-and-fall after another. I looked forward to every twisted build-up to a let-down the engineers could stack and deliver, and I dared them to jerk me around and try to fill me with fear.
My wife, Erica, the Long-Haired Admiral, was excited too, albeit in a more characteristically “grounded” way. And sure enough, the experience delivered all the excitement that she and I had expected, and more.
What a wild ride. Intense — in a good way. One of the best I’ve ever experienced.
Stepping off, I felt strong, invigorated, as if I’d “conquered” something bigger than me, and eager to go again.
Note to self — VelociCoaster: Good.
Boarding an emotional roller coaster is an entirely different thing.
Initially, we don’t know what we’re in for. We may wait patiently for a turn to embark on a new initiative or collaborative project, anticipating a smooth, “safe” ride through the soft moguls and bends of interpersonal communication and interactions. We may expect rational perspectives, positivity and generally predictable outcomes.
We’re not necessarily wired, willing or braced for psychological whiplash.
We’re not usually prepared for mental-emotional rises and falls, for others to build us up to see how far they can drop us, or for being intentionally or unintentionally jerked and jolted around within loops of miscommunication, misinterpretation or malintent.
It’s a “hard” environment of an intangible kind yet just as palpable as the physical version.
Stepping away from an emotional rollercoaster, we typically feel confused, undermined, destabilized, beaten up, defeated, and perhaps eager to mentally and/or physically quit.
It’s a wild ride, alright. Intense — in a bad way. Some of the worst I’ve ever experienced.
Note to self — EmotiCoaster: Bad.
Emotional Leadership: We Are What We Engineer
Generally speaking, emotional rollercoasters are designed by amateurs. (Although some are impeccably engineered by masters of manipulation, and that’s a separate and very serious issue.)
People board them initially unaware of what they’re in for. If they continue to hang in there, it’s usually because they feel trapped, not because they’re enjoying the ride.
I’ve ridden emotional rollercoasters, and I must admit that I’ve unwittingly engineered a few. As a young leader, I was an “amateur” in this respect. I didn’t know how to take a smooth ride, much less design one for others to get on board with.
By nature, I was wired for speed, impulse and reactivity; fueled by adrenaline; always braced for a hard-core experience. As a natural hot-head, I had a tendency to fly off the handle. I thought nothing of pulling the trigger on what I call verbal bullets and bombs. And then it never failed: Shooter’s remorse fired back with twice the impact. I felt guilty; I may have been unfair or hurtful to my unwitting “target”; and whatever the issue was still remained, now further complicated by compound injury.
I had no idea how — or why — to manage stress effectively, so I’d let it build to the boiling point and blame others when the lid blew.
Emotional immaturity made me my own worst enemy. Not a good dynamic for a “leader” of anything.
My weakest area of the Pentagon of Peak Performance was — and still is — Emotional Leadership. And that’s OK. It’s critical for me to understand this about myself. Of the five areas, we all have our natural strengths and vulnerabilities. What’s important is to identify them as such, stay mindful of their pros, cons and potential effects, and use that information to help us manage our lives and leadership more positively and effectively.
Are great leaders born, or can they be bred? Get my perspective on that in my free “LEARN to Lead” handout here. But here’s a clue: I constantly have to keep my emotional reactivity in check. And so I do.
“Reactive vs. Reflective Leadership”
I dove deeper into this concept in my 12-minute Nov. 8 Overcome Army Monday Muster on “Reactive vs. Reflective Leadership,” and I recommend you watch it.
I explained that we cannot completely dismiss the value of “reactivity” per-se, because as leaders, it’s instinctive to be reactive, and acute reactivity is an essential attribute when properly honed.
For instance, those of us who have worked in high-risk or crisis-response fields such as military, law-enforcement and fire-and-rescue are extensively trained in an extreme leadership style known to require split-second decision-making. We’re prepared to automatically react in emergency or crisis situations as if we don’t have a second to waste, and that’s a good thing. We need that muscle memory to kick in and take control in a chaotic, stressful, life-or-death scenario because we understand the extent to which others depend on us for survival and that every fraction of a second matters.
I also developed my R.E.A.C.T. methodology, based on my own Navy SEAL training and leadership experience, to teach people how to react immediately and effectively to “Get off the X!” in the case of what I refer to as a life ambush.
But what about how to conduct ourselves in personal and business leadership and relations within the relatively less chaotic realms of everyday life? There, people aren’t typically burning, broken or bleeding out in front of us; they’re depending upon us for more calm, balanced, “reflective” response. The well-being of these relationships and missions depends upon things like patience, kindness, love, thoughtfulness, friendship, moral support, training, guidance, encouragement and more elaborate verbal communication than rapid-fire outbursts of trite commands. The best leaders are those whom people want to follow, not those they have to follow.
To deliver that, we need to demonstrate a level of mental-emotional maturity that others can relate to, based on putting ourselves in their shoes, and that enables us to help and lead them, not inadvertently hurt them and the larger mission.
These are all traits of excellence in Emotional Leadership.
Great leaders understand how to emotionally balance themselves. Their highs aren’t too high, their lows aren’t too low, and they are mindful that it does nobody any good if they’re perpetuating an emotional rollercoaster.
Great leaders know that positivity is a powerful ally, so they choose the perspective of positivity, they project it always, and they maintain it to breech and conquer negativity or adversity on the path toward the ultimate goal.
They do what it takes, when possible, to diffuse a potentially volatile situation. That doesn’t mean that they ignore the underlying issues; it simply means that they take responsibility for directing the flow in the moment so as not to make it worse. They have cultivated that emotional maturity.
As leaders, it’s incumbent upon us to recognize within ourselves when we need to step back from an emotionally charged conversation or high-pressure situation to appropriately release the pressure and to take time to reflect on the contributing factors before responding in a way that’s calm, rational, positive and solution-oriented — not blame- or excuse-oriented.
Here, the time we take to reflect is not “wasted.” It’s purposeful and, ideally, highly productive in the end. It will turn out to be the seconds that mattered to the outcome, making the difference between a life-giving and a life-draining experience in a given scenario.
What Kind of Ride Are You Engineering?
How do you manage your own emotions on a day-to-day level? Are you naturally a hothead?
Are people following you because they want to, or because they have to?
Remember that Emotional Leadership is about understanding how we (ourselves and others) tick, keeping events and their implications in proper perspective and maintaining a respectful and positive mindset despite challenge and negativity.
I challenge you to begin conditioning your brain to be more “reflective.”
Don’t be afraid to take a pause. In most cases, you do have time to step away emotionally and reflect in order to make good decisions. Take a breath, or a run, or a day — whatever you need to stop the pot from boiling over, get your emotions in check and reflect on what was said, done or otherwise presented to you, rather than react to it by discharging a verbal bullet or bomb that you can’t take back.
Think about it: What’s really the point of dropping a bomb, anyway? The point is to decimate, to annihilate, to obliviate. Is that truly your goal in any area of your everyday personal or professional life?
And what happens once that damage is done? Sure, you can apologize, ask for forgiveness and do your best to make amends, but you can never undo it. Something being forgiven doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Actions have consequences.
You do have a choice in how you deal with your feelings. So prepare now to make your impact worth emulating, not regretting.
What action steps can you incorporate into your life to project genuine positivity, repattern your emotional reactivity and strengthen your own Emotional Leadership?
If you’ve not been following this series, do yourself a favor and get the bigger picture beginning with Part One.
Let me know how you’re putting the brakes on emotional rollercoasters in the comments area below.
Next stop: Social Leadership
Until then …
“Lead Always and Overcome All,”
Since retiring in 2013 from my 21-year U.S. Navy SEAL career, I’ve made it my mission to transfer my military leadership training, experience and skills to helping individuals and organizations to lead and launch themselves and their teams to elite performance. I accomplish this through an array of speaking topics, courses, books and coaching programs I’ve developed based largely upon proven SEAL and special-operations mission-centric and leadership techniques.
How can I be of service to you or your organization?
For information about my speaking offerings, visit www.jasonredman.com
Nearly all the topics covered in this series are also currently or soon-to-be available in an array of coaching programs, online courses and books, including bestsellers “The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader,” “Overcome: Crush Adversity With the Leadership Techniques of America’s Toughest Warriors” and new Pointman Planner. Visit: www.getoffx.com