Bad Leaders React, But Here’s What Good Leaders Do

Driven by their emotions, bad leaders react quickly to situations often without worrying about the facts or the repercussions of their actions, believing that they can always show good emotional intelligence by apologizing later.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

Leaders can’t just react, they need to be calm and show composure, even under pressure. They need to show consideration, be perceived as thoughtful and taking the facts into account, and then giving measured responses.

You can’t just lash out at people, or situations.

Impact of reacting rather than responding

When you do that it sets the tone for the organization, and it can create a stressful environment. One where people choose not to pass on information or bad news, because they fear that it will be the messenger who will get shot.

When we disrupt the information flow, it creates all kinds of issues, it can lead to you not being up to date or informed about what’s going on, it can mean that you miss the opportunity to address a critical situation before it becomes a catastrophe.

I will never forget when I was in school and one of the pupils rushed into the classroom just before the end of the lesson, and tried to get the teachers attention. The teacher was infuriated, and felt that this was the height of disrespect and the he proceeded to scream at the pupil. He demanded to know how dare he come his into his class without knocking on the door, and then trying to interrupt the teacher. Before the pupil could answer the teacher threw him out of the class and insisted that because of his impudence, he should wait until the class had ended, and then he could knock on the door and be admitted.

Once the class was over, which was about 15 minutes later; the teacher invited the pupil into the class and asked him, in front of everyone, what was so important to necessitate the intrusion. The pupli smiled and said, ‘the headmaster sent me to tell you that your wife called and your house is on fire”.

Scarlet the teacher ran out of the class, with all of the pupils laughing as he left.

That was a great lesson for me. It taught me a couple of things, the first one being that when people choose to interrupt you, they do so because maybe they have knowledge that you don’t and that they think you need to know right now, and secondly, over reacting can often make you look foolish, which is not a good way to build trust and respect with your teams.

Confusing being emotional with emotional intelligence

Don’t confuse being emotional with emotional intelligence either, they are definitely not the same thing. I remember one former boss trying to tell me that by wearing his heart on his sleeve and letting people see his emotions that this was the height of emotional intelligence. He also believed that with passion comes emotion and that it was a good trade-off, and therefore being emotional should be tolerated.

Emotions are a good thing, but they need to be channeled correctly, they cannot be allowed to run unchecked, and just erupt at any moment. That just makes you appear to be volatile and volatility isn’t a great leadership quality.

Also, if people know you can easily be baited, and that they can get you to react emotionally and lash out, they can look to use this against you and undermine your career.

One of the smartest people I ever worked with never achieved their full potential, because everyone knew that if you challenged them aggressively they couldn’t handle it and that they would have a bit of meltdown. Given that the competition for jobs at the top is fierce they were often challenged by other managers to highlight this failing to take them out of contention for any promotions that they were applying for. Yes it is unfair, and I can honestly say it’s not something I participated in or condoned, but that didn’t stop it from limiting their careers.

When you look at the research it’s your Emotional Quotient EQ that determines how successful you will be as a leader. Most leaders get hired because of their IQ, but promoted because of their EQ, or fired because of a lack of it.

Good EQ allows you to manage your emotions. It enables you to understand your feelings, manage them and then take time to make the right decision.

Reacting versus Responding

When you just react your thought processes are not fully optimal and this can cause you to make mistakes, or rash decisions.

There is a subtle but paramount difference between reacting and responding.

Reacting is when we unconsciously experience an emotional trigger and behave in an unconscious way that causes us to expresses or relieve that emotion. This may cause us to chastise someone because we are irritated that we have been interrupted.

However, when we respond, we notice how we are feeling, and we consciously decide how we will respond. In the case of the interruption, we could politely let them know we are busy and to come back in 10 or 15 minutes.

We don’t want to let our emotions control all our interactions.

This is easier said than done but with practice over time we can learn to master and control our emotions.

Discover what your emotional triggers are, so that you can look to prepare yourself to better manage your reaction, when you know that someone has started to touch on one of these sensitive subjects.

Understand your feelings, and learn the subtle warning signs, so you know that you’re starting to react rather than respond.

And failing that, be prepared to grit your teeth and count to 10 before you respond, it might not look stylish but words spoken can never take back. They maybe forgiven, but they are never forgotten.


Don’t be driven by your emotions, leaders need to be seen to be calm, considered and thoughtful at all times, as it build trust and can reduces stress in difficult situations.

It’s your EQ not your IQ that will determine how good a leader you will be.

The tendency to over react, or letting your emotions get the better of you can be used to undermine you credibility, and limit your opportunities.


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