CEO Leadership Traits: Speak Your Mind (If You Have One)

“You’re betraying your whole life if you don’t say what you think — and you don’t say it honestly and bluntly.”

—Charles Krauthammer, American political columnist

Not everyone is as articulate as Krauthammer. Saying what we think can get us in a bit of bother when the thinking part is ignored before the saying part. However, self-censorship is worse.

A CEO client recently asked me this at the end of a meeting: “Is it OK to get angry?” He was wondering if he could show anger toward his employees. What ensued was an interesting conversation with him and his executive team. 

We settled on whether it was about intent and control. Let’s start with intent. If your intent is to change behavior or motivate a coworker and you blow your top or personally attack that person, your anger has little positive value and most likely creates more of a problem than a benefit. There’s certainly value in identifying behavior or results that don’t meet your expectations, but how you do this has great bearing on the end result.

I don’t think showing emotion is bad. Consider the people you most respect for their communication ability. I suspect most of them show anger, fear, joy and a host of other emotions. But they also likely show much control and emotional intelligence.

Screamers make bad CEOs, spouses, friends and parents. They may develop some level of compliance on their team, but they won’t develop commitment!

Passion or intensity can be good. Talented managers, however, can deliver a tough message with passion and not raise their voice, lose control or personally attack anyone. Do they occasionally cross the line? Sure! However, they have the emotional intelligence to apologize when they do.

Krauthammer was a thoughtful writer who carefully considered his topics before delivering his blunt messages. Those of you in leadership roles know that much of your communication is done verbally on the fly. This implies that you must think deeply about your ideas, business and people to have a “prepared mind” when tough issues arise. It also means you must have the self-control to avoid showing anger inappropriately.

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  • Craig Chaplin

    2:23 pm January 30, 2019

    The current issue of Wired magazine features an article on the leadership behaviors of Elon Musk, focusing on his alleged irrational and frequently angry outbursts. The article lays out the impact – very high turnover at important levels of the Tesla corporation.

    Different viewpoints are essential and lead to the best decisions. Conflict, especially angry conflict, comes with a steep cost.

  • babygraz

    3:38 am April 23, 2019

    Building a strong and committed top team. To harness the transformative power of the top team, CEOs must make tough decisions about who has the ability and motivation to make the journey.