The Pressure Cooker EmotionalLeadership

Since last year I have been teaching my Pentagon of Performance self-leadership model.  How to lead yourself in five key areas to be an effective balanced leader.  Physical leadership, mental leadership, emotional leadership, social leadership and spiritual leadership.  Emotional Leadership is a unique ability to manage and control our emotions despite the environment around us.  It is staying calm amidst chaos, maintaining that poker face in the business deal, controlling elation during positive negotiations.  It is the old adage – never let them see you sweat. 

When I was younger and even later into my career in the SEAL Teams I had terrible emotional leadership.  You knew if I was excited and you knew when I was angry, disappointed, frustrated or any other myriad of emotions.  I was a hot head and often when I would get angry I would kick or hit things… basically the equivalent of an adult temper tantrum.  As I got older I began to recognize that one of the key components of leading yourself is strong emotional leadership; the ability to project leadership and confidence and motivate and inspire people regardless of the doubts or frustrations you may feel on the inside.  Great leaders lead at all times, regardless of how they feel.  As I grew up both mentally, physically and emotionally, I got much better at controlling my emotions and projecting what was needed in the situation.  I also got much better at recognizing within myself when I was near a tipping point of anger, frustration or elation and when to step out of the situation to allow some of that pressure to vent.   This is a critical component of emotional leadership, to know yourself and recognize the situations that have high potential to set you off and recognize the signs you are losing control.

            Despite all my best efforts to emotionally lead myself, I am still human and recently ignored the signs.  It was a crazy summer as we moved into a new house.  The new house was a foreclosure which got us a great deal on a beautiful house but also brought along with it a host of expected and unexpected costs and problems.  During this time, we also launched a new speakers bureau, Eagle Rise Speakers Bureau and I continued to lead my non-profit, Combat Wounded Coalition down the path of our new leadership program, the Overcome Academy.  As costs rose in my personal life, expenses rose in the non-profit world, new business challenges mounted, and all the stress accumulated.  Instead of recognizing the increasing pressure, I chose to ignore it and drive forward. 

            During the Overcome Academy I talk to the students about balance and how life and balance are like military freefall operations.  Falling out of an airplane requires the ability to relax and basically ride a column of air.  A failure to relax and fight it can cause you to spin or become very unstable in the air which is not conducive to a good and safe parachute opening.  As you become more experienced we begin adding equipment such as heavy ruck sacks strapped to your front or back, weapons strapped to your side, helmets, oxygen bottles, oxygen masks and night vision goggles.  In the even more advanced stages we can add a diving rig or even a dog for those who are dog handlers or large bundles with hundreds of pounds of equipment.  All these pieces of equipment make your ability to relax and fly stable in the air much more challenging.  The one lesson taught above all others is if you get totally out of control in a violent spin and cannot recover, you are supposed to pull your parachute.  Many students and even experienced skydivers try to fight the spin and only make it worse until it is too late, and they cannot recover or pull their parachute at all.  Life is like all that military equipment during skydiving.  When we are struggling the most and are starting to spin out of control, we need to immediately pull, land, take a breath and start again safely.

            Unfortunately, recently I was spinning out of control and kept telling myself I was good, I got this.  The pressure inside me was building and my refusal to recognize the mounting pressure was reaching a boiling point.  That boiling point occurred a week before starting our next Overcome Academy class for wounded warriors.  As I worked on the curriculum one morning, my computer froze, and I had to close all my programs and restart the computer.  When I reopened the curriculum, all the changes and updates I had made over the last two days were gone.  Now I am a religious saver, hitting save every few minutes to prevent things like this happening so as I frantically searched my computer for the document, the pressure cooker was reaching max pressure.  After fifteen minutes of searching, the turkey popper popped, the tea kettle began to scream and so did I.  I slammed my computer down and let loose with a tirade of expletives at the top of my lungs which brought one of my staff back to my office to check on me.  She arrived just in time to watch an overgrown infant finish his temper tantrum by punching a hole in his office door.  Leadership by example at its best.  Everything I have worked hard for many years not to be.

            After cooling down a few minutes, I recognized the foolishness of my actions.  I also recognized the damage the loss of emotional control can have on people around you.  Nobody wants to work for a leader who flies off the handle and loses his mind.  I promptly apologized to my staff and told them I had been ignoring my own advice – to manage stress, have balance and pull when you are out of control.  A couple hours later our IT manager managed to find my changes to my curriculum in an obscure file hidden deep in the computer.

            The bottom line – know yourself.  If you want to be a good leader, lead yourself emotionally because you will be able to lead others better and handle all situations better, good or bad.  Recognize the signs when you are ready to boil over because it does no one any favors when it happens; most importantly you.  Always remember – credibility is the currency of leadership.  Everything you do and say plays a part in building or eroding your credibility so work on your emotional leadership every day, so you are always in control, never your emotions.  And lastly, if you mess up, like I did.  Own it.  Apologize for it and then get back on course. 


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