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Leader's Digest: Keeping Your Cool

From his days directing Missouri’s Christian Hospital EMS a decade ago to his current work as a consultant and development specialist, Chris Cebollero has learned enough about leadership to have written multiple successful books about it. This new series excerpts his Ultimate Leadership: 10 Rules for Success. For more see  

"The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.”

—Japanese proverb

Rule #1: Never Allow Your Emotions to Dictate Your Actions

The Japanese proverb quoted in the chapter opening captures the truth in this fundamental rule of good leadership. Think about it—it takes forever to build up your leadership integrity, your leadership credibility. If you allow your emotions to dictate your actions, everything you’ve just built for all that time is now circling the drain until you can fix it. 

I learned rule No. 1 after I had a very emotional outburst with the members of my organization. I was frustrated and angry at the time. I was taking myself too seriously. The truth is, I wasn’t a leader for the right reasons. The only reason I became a leader was because my organization asked me to. At the time I wasn’t doing anything that showed any good leadership characteristics. 

I allowed the frustrations I was feeling to dictate my actions. I yelled, and I pointed fingers. I talked bad about people. This type of behavior really affected me as a leader—instead of trying to nurture and guide, I tore people down and played blame games. Instead of trying to help people be the best they could be, I thought they were there for me. In actuality you realize that as a leader your job is to serve your employees and teams, to work for them, not for them to serve you and your career ambitions. 

I allowed my emotions to dictate my actions, and I paid the price for that for a lot of years. No matter how many times you say you’re sorry to them, and how many times you try to rebuild your reputation back up, that cloud of your own history and actions never stops following you around.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is essential for leadership success. Leaders who shout or point fingers are reacting poorly to their own internal feelings and stress. Their followers aren’t going to want to be part of that. It’s going to decrease their motivation, and that’s going to reduce their engagement and job satisfaction. It also literally decreases their productivity. People want to follow leaders who are calm and whom they truly believe can lead them effectively during times of stress. 

Once you’re able to understand and put yourself in a position of leading with emotional intelligence, it becomes part of your personal leadership toolbox. 

As a leader, the more we can incorporate the components of emotional intelligence into our leadership style, the higher our emotional intelligence becomes. There are five main components to emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. 

Self-awareness—One way you can improve your self-awareness is by keeping a journal. This is what I did. Every time I felt an emotion that was outside my “normal,” I wrote in my journal about the specifics of the situation, describing what I thought made me feel an emotional reaction to it. 

Then, in a moment of reflection, I’d go back to my journal and say, “OK, now how did that make me feel? Why did this happen?” You should reflect on your day, you should reflect on your week, but you should also look through that journal to say, “How is it now going to help me grow as a leader?” You are now in a position to determine why you’re reacting in certain ways if you’re seeing it in front of you. 

Self-regulation—Self-regulation is really the bridge between knowing you’re getting upset and staying in control and not letting it out. 

You can improve your ability to regulate yourself by knowing what your values are, knowing what you won’t compromise. Write your own little personal code of ethics and post it somewhere. Let everybody see it. You’re not going to compromise your integrity, you’re not going to compromise your trustworthiness. Those are important things to do to help you regulate yourself, and you need to reflect on them regularly. 

Motivation—Motivation is one of the toughest things leaders have to do. It’s not really motivation of the workforce as much as it is self-motivation. Leading ourselves can be a real challenge sometimes. 

Being self-motivated is a vital component to being a successful leader. It is this understanding that helps improve your emotional intelligence. Successful leaders are constantly working toward growth. Being growth-oriented means you’re always looking to learn, improve, and move forward toward solutions. As leaders we need to be growth-oriented. We need to know that growing in our position is a journey that never ends, and we should never want it to end. 

Empathy—When employees come to talk to you, be an empathetic listener. Show you care about them as a person and want to help. When someone is telling you their problem, you may know it’s not an emergency, but the people coming to you feel it’s an emergency to them. Put yourself in their position and look at it from their perspective.

Ask yourself: How am I reacting as they tell me the story? How are they reacting as I’m giving them feedback? Are their arms crossed? Are they fidgeting? Watch their facial expressions. Ensure the message is positive on both sides. Sometimes employees just need to vent. 

Social skills—Having the social skills necessary to influence people and being a great communicator are key aspects of being a great leader. Developing your social skills teaches you not only how to respond, it also helps you resolve issues and respond tactfully. Sometimes we don’t do that, or in the heat of battle we blurt something out that comes out very harsh sounding. We didn’t mean to sound harsh, but because we’re involved in so many things, that’s the response they got from us. If you have good social skills, you can resolve the conflict tactfully, you won’t leave things as they are, you’ll go ahead and fix them in order to maintain a good working relationship.  

Chris Cebollero, NRP, is a senior partner for Cebollero & Associates in St. Louis, Mo. He is a member of the EMS World editorial advisory board. 




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