How Great Leaders Stay Cool


By Jas Singh

Last year we worked on a Global Head of Product Development search for a top 100 NYSE company.

They’d shortlisted a stand out candidate and discussions had gone very well. Both sides were keen and had even agreed on numbers.

Our candidate was a British candidate and used to working for FTSE companies. When the final contract came through, he noticed his official title was “Global Head of Product Development”. In the UK, it’s common for such positions to be called “Group Product Director”. In ten years as a hiring specialist, I didn’t foresee it being a problem – a minor adjustment I thought.

Boy was I wrong. To my amazement, both parties were totally unwilling to compromise. I can bore you with the reasons but the truth is neither were convincing. As far as I’m concerned, people who can buy and sell billion dollar companies over a weekend can accept a slightly different title.

Although it’s hard to believe, it got to the point where the CEO called me up on a Sunday night absolutely livid. Ready to pull the plug on the entire thing – as far as he was concerned there was no way at all he was going to now budge. Despite this being a critical hire, having taken six months of careful search and our candidate being by far the most qualified and appropriate person.

His final words – take it or leave it. This had become a recruitment inferno.

Sure I said. (Knowing he would leave it). But let’s not make any rash decisions. Can I call you next week to see how you feel about it then?

Anybody who hires regularly knows what happens next. Time is a great rationaliser. Seven days later both parties had cooled down and had regained their perspective. A deal was agreed and so far it’s been a great hire for both sides.

In leadership stakes are often high. Pressure can be intense.

In such cases it’s easy for tempers to overflow.

But the key to leadership is often staying calm when others around you are panicking.

Here are some ways how great leaders stay cool.

They get away

As psychologists know, getting some distance and changing perspective nearly always reduces stress. It’s why doctors often recommend a change of scene for people suffering from extreme anxiety.

It’s impossible to feel both happy and sad at the same time. Shifting focus to something else – even for a few minutes – is often all in takes to defuse a tense situation.

Whether it’s getting outside, phoning a friend or even reading an inspirational book, great leaders step out of the fire to cool down.

They hear the full story

As a manager myself, I’ve learned over the past few years that most situations are never as bad as feared at first. And even if they are, there’s nearly always something you can do about it.

Flipping out or reacting furiously without hearing the full story is perhaps one of the worst things any manager can do. Not only does it alienate others, paralyse one’s reasoning and quicken the need to take beta-blockers, it also prevents one other important factor.

The opportunity to come up with the best solution.

Great leaders know that making decisions based on in-the-moment conversations is pointless.

To lead effectively you have to extract the whole picture.

They breathe and smile

Although it might sound a bit cheesy, research has actually proven that act of smiling can actually make you feel calmer and more positive.

Our emotions and physiology are linked. We all know that our emotions can control what we do, but few of us remember that what we do can also control how we feel.

The best leaders I have ever worked with literally condition their state and emotions daily with a pre-determined schedule. Whether it’s smiling, breathing, exercising or even dancing in the mirror, they physically move to control the way they feel.

Seriously, I’m not kidding. That weird guy running next to the Thames each day shouting to himself is actually a high profile CEO.

Great leaders have routines to help them cool down.


Keeping cool is a trait necessary to achieve.

It’s even more important when leading others.

Hiring managers can gain much from those people who know how to keep cool even when things become heated.

How do you stay cool?

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