Emotions run very high in the heat of the moment“I’m so…you make me…I just can’t be around you anymore! I’m leaving!”

“Fine! Go! Walk away!”

“Fine! I will!”

Two otherwise-mature adults, their bodies defensive and tight with rage, turn their backs on and stomp away from each other with whatever led to this emotional climax unresolved in the heat of the moment like two three-year-olds fighting over a toy.

Immature? Yes.

Can we all identify? Yes.

Have we all done it? Yes.

The purpose of this blog is to define what quintessential leadership is, what it is not, and to show what it looks like in practice.

Being quintessential leaders is the goal. Becoming quintessential leaders is a process. And the reality is that none of us are completely there yet.

But we all, if we’re reading this, want to become and are on the path to being quintessential leaders.

Sometimes it’s helpful to take a unquintessential leader moment – we all have them – and analyze it to see what happened and why it happened.

Then, as we think it through, we can identify what steps (i.e., what it looks like) we could have taken and, hopefully, in the future will take to be a quintessential leader in this area of our lives.

Handling the heat of the moment consistently as a quintessential leader is one of the most difficult areas we will routinely encounter in our lives.

We face it, sometimes on a daily basis, as parents, as children, as siblings, as spouses, as friends, and as team members.

Because intense emotions rise to the surface in these encounters, it is difficult, at times, to step back, so to speak, dial down the emotional aspect, and exercise the discipline and self-control not to end up saying things we don’t mean, hurting feelings, and stomping away in anger with nothing resolved.

And sometimes the words we say are so harsh, the feelings are so deeply hurt, and the abandonment so angry and final that incurable wounds are left and relationships are damaged beyond repair in this lifetime.

No one wants this.

So let’s examine what quintessential leadership looks like in the heat of the moment. In the process we will see the places in these encounters where things can quickly either go right or wrong, leading to a domino effect that either leads to strengthening the relationship between two people or, at worst, destroying it permanently.

What causes the heat of the moment?

It’s usually something as simple as a word or a gesture.

Whichever it is, it pushes our buttons on such a fundamental level that our first reaction is extreme and negative emotionally.

When this happens, our gut response is to immediately turn off, shut down, and shut off whatever provoked our emotional firestorm.

We do this with defensive and angry words – most often in the form of a vicious verbal attack designed to hit below the belt for maximum effect – and defensive gestures (finger pointing, aggressive leaning in, etc.).

If this doesn’t shut up the person who has pushed our buttons and they try to explain why they said or did what they said or did, then we get angrier and more determined to stop the source of our emotional turmoil.

We pull out all the big guns of accusation and intimidation, talking over the other person, refusing to listen to anything they say, getting louder, angrier, and more aggressive to stop them.

If that doesn’t work, then finally we spit out the words at the very beginning of this post that convey that our disgust, our hatred (in that moment), and our rejection of that person is so deep that it has rendered us unable to even to complete a thought or a sentence so we have no choice but to leave.

This is an unquintessential leader response.

And our actions and words create anger, hurt, and frustration in the person we’re trying to shut down, so they have an unquintessential leader response as well.

Unquintessential leadership in the heat of the moment can lead to irreparable relationship chasmsIn other words, everyone fails to be a quintessential leader. And if the chasm we’ve created is too wide and too deep to be filled or bridged, we’ve also destroyed a relationship.

What does quintessential leadership look like in the heat of the moment?

First, quintessential leaders put the brakes on after the first gust of their emotional upheaval appears. They know their triggers well, but they also recognize that words and gestures that may mean one thing to them may not mean the same thing to other people.

So, instead of jumping to the conclusion that they know what the other person means by a word or a gesture, quintessential leaders engage with the person to find out what is behind the word or the gesture.

In other words, quintessential leaders put their own ideas, reactions, and assumptions aside and they start a conversation with the other person.

But starting a conversation is not enough.

Quintessential leaders listen to the other person. By listening, I mean they let the other person explain fully what they meant by what they said or did (there might even be an apology if they realize it was wrong or inappropriate) without interruption.

Quintessential leaders hear the words, they process the words, and they don’t make mental assumptions and arguments while impatiently waiting for the other person to get through talking.

Quintessential leaders then affirm that they heard the other person by summarizing what that person said. There may be a place here – if it is appropriate (most of the time it is not) and if it can be done peaceably, kindly, and gently – for quintessential leaders to explain their initial response to the word or gesture the other person used.

It is at this point that potential conflict is defused and a meaningful dialogue that can benefit both people starts. This is part of how we get to know, to understand, and to learn about each other, which is the quintessential leader way.

But what if neither person was a quintessential leader in the heat of the moment and they both ended up stomping off in anger?

There is still an opportunity to be a quintessential leader.

One action does not define who we are. If it did, we’d all be toast.

It is the sum total of our actions that show whether, in the balance, we’re on the path to becoming quintessential leaders or not.

The next opportunity to be a quintessential leader for both people is to reach out and apologize and extend peace.

Quintessential leaders extend peace after conflict regardless of faultIt doesn’t matter whether we were the attacker or the recipient of the attack in the heat of the moment.

As quintessential leaders we bear the responsibility to, as much as lies within our ability, do the right thing.

It may be that there is no acceptance of or response to our overture to make peace. That doesn’t mean we don’t do it anyway. It is the right thing to do. Always.

If the other person doesn’t accept it or respond to it, then we know that we’ve done what quintessential leaders do and we can have a clear conscience going forward.

And we’ve had a teachable moment for how we need to respond to all our future in the heat of the moments. We can learn valuable lessons even in the worst circumstances and those lessons should change us for the better.

Now is the time we all look in our own mirrors of our own lives. No, as tempting as it is, we don’t look around at everybody else. Look at yourself, just as I look at myself.

Are you and I quintessential leaders all the time in the heat of the moment?

Are you and I quintessential leaders sometimes and unquintessential leaders other times in the heat of the moment?

Are you and I always unquintessential leaders in the heat of the moment?

The odds are favorable that most of us fall into the category of the second question I asked. And that means we need to do some homework.

We need to figure out when we are sometimes unquintessential leaders in the heat of the moment what causes it (triggers, buttons) and why (response) we are.

Then we need to work on addressing those whats and whys so that they don’t light the emotional fire in us that makes us unquintessential leaders.

We can’t hold other people responsible for them (“well, if XYZ hadn’t said or done that, I wouldn’t have reacted that way”). That’s an excuse and a justification that makes everybody but us responsible for the changes we need to make.

This is our work on ourselves in becoming quintessential leaders and no one can do that but us. And some of this work may be extremely painful and it may last the rest of our lives.

But if we’re committed to becoming quintessential leaders, then whatever it takes to reach that goal is worth it.

How are we doing?

 

 

 

 

 

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