Incito Leadership and Executive Coaching


What happens when executives lose composure?

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I recently heard a story about two executive VP’s that had a screaming match with each other in the office. Next, one executive went as far as to invite team members from the other’s team into a meeting and gave them a dressing down in front of their VP. After that meeting, they had another screaming match all in the workplace. You might be aghast to hear of this story and assume it is a rarity - it is not.

Why does this Happen?

What happens next is the executive who lost composure also loses credibility. They can become that leader others walk on eggshells around just waiting for them to “lose it” again one day. Employees and other leaders who witnessed or heard about the outburst question why no one is talking about it and whether the behavior is acceptable to the CEO.

Some of the stress factors that can lead executives to get to this point include:

  • Budget season pressures

  • High pressures and demands to reach results in challenging circumstances

  • Crises and failures that create intense emotion

  • Festering interpersonal conflict between executives

  • A leader taking on too much, not delegating, and running a team without enough staff

  • A CEO who is too hands off the development of the executive team cohesiveness

  • A culture of scarcity and fear of failure

  • Personal life stresses impacting your ability to be resilient in difficult work situations

  • Ongoing disagreements on approach and decisions compared to your peers

If you’ve lost composure, you need to know that it won’t end well unless you step into humility. This doesn’t mean you “throw yourself on your sword” but it does mean you admit you made a mistake, apologize and do so quickly. 

I have yet to meet a leader who lost their composure and isn’t aware deep down that they’ve crossed a line. The challenge is we can get into a greater fear that leads us to self-protect and move into blame to justify our behavior. “Losing it” in the workplace is never acceptable behavior for a leader at any level and there is no justification that will repair your reputation.  

So how do you move forward?

A reckoning of sorts is required, find some time to yourself and reflect on what led to your outburst. What are the facts? What is the story you are making up about the situation?  Some also benefit from venting to a trusted friend or peer to process the rest of the emotion before they can figure out the facts and the story around those facts. Next, ask yourself: What three things you did to contribute to the situation coming to a head?  Once you’re clear on your missteps, now it’s time to go apologize sincerely to everyone impacted, sometimes it’s an apology to one person and other times it’s a wider apology to all those who witnessed your outburst.  In addition, your apology will be more meaningful if it includes what others can expect from you in the future.

If you are the CEO and you have had an executive lose composure or two who have engaged in a yelling match, act quickly.  Time will not resolve this issue and not acknowledging it with staff will lead to greater drama and loss of credibility for your leadership, not just the executive who lost their composure.  

We all make mistakes and can lose our composure.  Ignoring that it happened won’t make things better, only worse.  Muster the courage to address it and apologize sincerely, and do it quickly.

Jenn Lofgren