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Identify Triggers and Keep Your Cool

Picture of man pointing and yelling, showing loss of self control.

Have you ever come dangerously close to losing your composure?

We’ve all been there. Sometimes—if we can’t control ourselves—it can lead to disastrous situations and negative impacts on relationships, employees, and colleagues.

Whether it’s a frustrating employee, irritating colleague, or even an exasperating client, you know that as a leader it is crucial to stay calm, poised, and positive.

What do you do in these situations?

The difference between a mediocre leader and a great one is how they maintain their cool in stressful situations. It says a lot about a person and their leadership style.

While we’re not all perfect—we’ve all lost our cool at one time or another—the important thing to remember is that when we do lose our cool, we understand why, identify what caused it, and work to improve ourselves so we are better equipped to deal, if or when it happens again.

Remember: you’re a leader. You’re equipped with all sorts of tools and experiences that can help you through even the toughest of situations!

A great leader maintains their composure by thinking clearly and staying focused.

When the pressure is on, it is critically important to stay disciplined and maintain your composure. We’ve all reacted in the heat of the moment, only to regret it later on.

So, what can you do to maintain your self-control?

Identify your main triggers.

The first step to exercising restraint is to identify your triggers—these are the things that easily upset you or irritate you. They tend to make you impatient and can easily send you over the edge if you don’t practice self control.

Remember: a great leader leads by example. If you find yourself facing a trigger, it is important to learn how to practice self control. The last thing you want is for your team or employees to see you lose control.

It may be worth your while to make a list of all the triggers that get you all hot and bothered. Here are some examples:

  • Being interrupted.
  • Incompetent colleagues or employees.
  • People who talk to much.
  • Rudeness.
  • People who are constantly late.
  • Noisy people.

Ask yourself:

What are the things that not only irritate me, but also drain my mental capacity? 

Once you clearly articulate what causes you to lose your cool, you’ve taken a giant step towards staying calm, composed, and unruffled in the face of stress and strain.

I’d like to know what you do. What specific actions do you take to keep your cool under pressure? Do share! And if you’re interested in learning how to turn into a more powerful leader, have a look at the services I offer!

This article was originally published on August 8, 2011 and has been updated.

For more helpful tips about being a great leader, check out the blogs below:

A leadership lesson from monarch butterflies
How you admit your mistakes matters
A problem employee must be dealt with promptly


  • To keep my composure, I divorce myself from any emotion attached to my job and workplace. Just STICK TO THE FACTS, no editorializing; no innuendo; no opinions; ignore iceberg statements (ones that really mean something else other than what was said)- DON’T respond to what isn’t being said. Don’t make assumptions; just listen to anyone who is really upset, until they “come down”; don’t worry about being right. Take time to respond – maybe don’t respond at all except to acknowledge you heard them, until you have time to digest it, think about it, and come up with the most reasonable response. Don’t ever respond if your own emotions are not under control. Sometimes a little time will make a HUGE difference.

  • I completely agree with Darlene with not saying anything at all until your emotions are under control. However, how important it is to answer to the situation (in a smart way) on a timely basis? I have a hard time with my heart rising (making it difficult to talk)when someone “attacks” me. I wish I knew how to respond to those situations.

  • Darlene, thanks for the great advice, I agree completely. Often, time is what is needed to create that distance that is so necessary to respond with composure and equanimity.

    Marcela, to reply to your question, it is important to respond to such a situation, at some point, but in your OWN time. Time is what will give you the space to respond well, but it is definitely not an excuse to not respond at all! It is critical to address such issues in a non-threatening and non-defensive way; if you just ignore it, it won’t go away; in fact it will just get worse! In future columns I’ll offer some specific advice, but for now I’d love to hear from all of you. Any recommendations for Marcela?


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