Why leaders need to get better at regulating emotions

July 3, 2024 | 5 Min read
In times of upheaval and uncertainty, leaders have a responsibility to steer their people through the storm with composure and resolve, writes Leah Mether.

In times of upheaval and uncertainty, leaders have a responsibility to steer their people through the storm with composure and resolve.

Effective leadership under pressure hinges on a leader’s ability to regulate their own emotions – a skill that many struggle to master.

Whether it’s suppressing emotions until they erupt, reacting aggressively to stress, becoming frantic as a deadline looms, throwing a tantrum when you don’t get your own way, or becoming defensive in the face of feedback, such responses undermine your credibility, tarnish relationships, erode trust, and hinder effective communication. 

In short, your competency to do your job will be judged against how well you regulate your reactions and emotions, and whether you can stay calm under pressure.

Emotional regulation is not about suppressing feelings or holding it together all the time—you’re human, and you have permission to feel.

Rather, it’s about processing and expressing your emotions in a constructive and appropriate way, even under duress.

It involves modelling the behaviour you want to see in other people and being resilient in the face of challenges.

 Here’s why it matters:

Emotions and behaviours are contagious. 

People look to their leaders for guidance. When leaders regulate their own emotions, it creates a ripple effect, promoting an environment of calmness and stability.

This not only enhances team dynamics but also significantly boosts productivity.

For example, if a leader responds with panic or anger when their team faces a significant setback, the entire team will likely adopt a similar mindset, leading to chaos and distraction.

On the other hand, if the leader remains composed and focussed on finding solutions, team members are more likely to follow suit, allowing the team to navigate the challenge more effectively.

Leaders have a responsibility to lead by example, particularly if they intend to hold their people to account for poor behaviour.

You must lead yourself first before you lead others. It’s hard to hold someone else accountable for yelling if you’re dysregulated and yelling yourself.

Losing control also makes your communication ineffective.

People will ignore what you say because your behaviour distracts and detracts from your message. Regardless of how legitimate your point is – the focus shifts to your behaviour instead.

It becomes about the outburst, rather than what is being said. Instead of listening, people tell you to calm down (which usually has the opposite effect), rendering the content of your message useless.

If you struggle to control your emotions, particularly when communicating under pressure, working to address this is vital for your success.

Here are three key steps to get you started:

  1. It starts with self-awareness.

You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. Start by honestly assessing how emotions affect your behaviour. This isn’t about beating yourself up or self-loathing, it’s about honest self-reflection. Having weaknesses doesn’t make you a bad person, it simply makes you a human with things to work on.

Ask yourself and answer, without excuse or justification:

  • What’s it like to be around me – for my staff and colleagues?
  • How do my emotions impact my behaviour, particularly under pressure?
  • Am I modelling the behaviour I want to see in my team?

If you’re not sure how your emotions impact your mood, behaviour and communication, ask a trusted source who you know will be honest with you. People who are self-aware see themselves more closely to how others see them.

  1. Take personal responsibility.

Once you’re aware of how your emotions impact your communication and behaviour, it’s time to take personal responsibility. That is, take personal responsibility for both your actions in the past and for ensuring you better manage your emotions in the future, with no room for “yeah, but”.

You losing control is not someone else’s fault. It’s yours. Own it, apologise for it as quickly as possible after the event, and most importantly – make amends by working to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This act of humility not only diffuses tension but also ensures trust is maintained. Saying sorry is a sign of strength not weakness.

  1. Make a commitment and do the work

Make a commitment to developing your emotional intelligence and practice self-regulation techniques. Experiment with strategies such as getting enough sleep, putting a pause between your reaction and response, focussing on what can be controlled and influenced, cultivating empathy, assuming positive intent, deep breathing, and getting curious not furious. Building your emotional intelligence takes time and effort, but the benefits – both personally and professionally – are immense. By consistently practising these techniques, leaders will not only improve their own emotional regulation but also set a positive example for their team.


Leah Mether, author of Steer Through the Storm: How to Communicate and Lead Courageously Through Change, and Soft is the New Hard: How to Communicate Effectively Under Pressure (Ingram Spark, $25.00), is a communication specialist obsessed with making the people part of leadership and work life easier. Renowned for her engaging style as a trainer, speaker and facilitator, Leah helps leaders and teams shift from knowing to doing, and radically improve their effectiveness. Visit www.leahmether.com.au




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