Keep your cool!

Jul 23, 2015

Great leaders know when to hold their tongues, take a step back, ask questions, and come to a better solution.

Every day that goes by, the more convinced I am that our abilities to keep our individual cool during potentially emotional situations is one of the most important skills we can develop. And, like most other skills, it is improved with practice. Here are some examples of what I am talking about:
  • An employee says/writes something incredibly stupid to you that proves without a doubt how misguided they are or how inflated their opinion of themselves is, and you want to fire them on the spot because of it. Has this ever happened to you? If so, you aren’t alone. But you may want to think about that immediate firing. What will happen to the projects this person is working on? Who will complete those projects? What will the client(s) think? Is all of the employee’s work where you can get to it on your server, or is it stored somewhere else? Also, this employee could be well-loved by other employees, who will see you a monster for what you did, and you could screw up the morale of the whole team. Keep your cool before you act.
  • A client wants you to do something for free or at a price that you just can’t possibly agree to. Has this ever happened to you? It certainly has me. But, before scoffing and acting insulted and telling him/her there’s no way you can meet the request, you would be better off to stay cool and start asking questions. Why does he/she think this is needed? Is it absolutely necessary? Why does the client think you should do it for free – is there a perceived “debt” for you to work-off (in his/her mind)? How much is this client relationship worth to you? Is the marketing benefit of the free/reduced price work worth what it costs you? While it is tempting to laugh off the request or give a smart alec response, stay cool – don’t be sarcastic – and you will probably come out ahead.
  • A subconsultant is simply not performing. You want to fire him/her immediately and get someone else on the job. Has this ever happened to you? I would bet it has. Once again, while it may be tempting to drop the axe, it may also be expensive. What is this sub’s relationship to your client? What will be said about you? Are you sure you are dealing with the right person in the subconsultant’s organization? Maybe the principal is presently unaware of the non-performance and needs to be informed. How much would it cost to restart the project with another firm? Is anyone else on-deck and ready to go, if you do that? How will your firing the sub on this job affect other jobs your firm might have that organization working on? What will your fellow principals think of you if you fired him/her? Stay calm and cool and answer these questions – and more – before you act.
I could go on and on with more examples, but the bottom line is this:IF you can bite your tongue, think, get some questions answered, and not act emotionally, YOU can respond to the problem the way you really want to –on YOURschedule with the least amount of fallout. And that, my friends, is the hallmark of a great leader.
MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.