How to Blow Your Top if You’re At the Top

In the recent New York Times piece, The Benefits of Blowing Your Top, the author exhorts us to “Lose it.  Just once.  See what happens.”

This interesting article – the scope of which is admittedly broader than I address in this post – goes on, in part, to explore whether over-regulating our emotions is beneficial.  Case in point: the President taking flack lately for a seeming lack of outwardly perceptible passion.  Some yearn for him to metaphorically pound his fist on the table to demonstrate anger.  At least, a little bit.  After all, as Jean Kerr famously quipped, “If you can keep your head about you when all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.”

So, here’s the question for C-Suite executives and senior leaders: what’s the place for outward expressions of emotionality at the top of the organization?

In response, I begin by reminding you that the first “pass-or-fail, check-off box” your constituents mentally fill in when intermittently grading your performance is: are you worth following?  This only gets heightened at a time of perceived crisis.

I recommend you consider your actions and weigh the three C’s: Crux, Culture & Congruence.

1.  Crux.  It’s key that you laser in on the essence of the issue.  Is it one that an average person would get emotional about?  Determine if there’s been an injustice, or perhaps just a turn of bad luck.  If the former, don’t underestimate your constituents’ primal need for vindication by you, their leader.  It’s at the heart of your moral authority.

2.  Culture.  Adhere to the communication norms of your organization.  Despite your senior level atop the hierarchy, you are still of – not above or apart from – the tacit rules of behavior your employees live by.  Moreover, calibrate for divisional or departmental audiences.  For example, passion might look different to sales leaders than it does to research heads.

3.  Congruence.  Make sure what and how you communicate is congruent with your personal values.  When asked to describe leaders they would most like to emulate, workshop participants of mine invariably cite men and women whose behavior resonates as authentic.

In sum, I’m suggesting that you employ consciousness and control over your behavior whether you choose to pound your fist or demonstrate equanimity.  I guess, by definition, this means not “blowing your top.”  So, my variation on the Times article might be to “thoughtfully appear to lose it.  Just once.  See what happens.”


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