How a Leader Evolved from Hot-Headed to Level-Headed

Several years ago, my boss and I were leaving a client appointment. As we entered the parking lot, we watched a car parking next to his brand-new vehicle scrape the shiny paint off the side of his car.

We heard the sound of metal against metal and watched as the driver seemed oblivious, not realizing what was happening.


My boss remained calm, initially not saying a word. Finally, I looked at him, stunned at his lack of overreaction, and said, “Your car was hit”.


He calmly said, “Yes, I saw.”


My boss then spoke to the person who hit his car, who was extremely apologetic. He stayed level-headed, even understanding, and accepted the driver’s apology.


As we were driving back to the office, I commented on how calmly he handled the situation.


“I knew it was an accident, it’s only a car, and the damage can be fixed.”


He went on to say his response wasn’t always that levelheaded.


“I’ve learned when things like this happen to respond with a level head. In my upbringing, my father was an alcoholic. As I grew up, I saw firsthand volatile arguments between my parents that led to family chaos. I’ve made a conscious choice not to drink alcohol because of what I witnessed in my father’s behavior.


But not drinking alcohol didn’t mean that I knew how to handle anger well. For many years I had a quick temper when things didn’t go my way. It took punching my fist into a wall and causing damage to realize I needed to learn how to get my anger under control.


It started with getting aware of how my Dad’s drinking affected me. What you just saw with my calmness was a result of making a conscious choice to change patterns I learned growing up.”

What is your response when things don’t go your way?

Are you able to maintain perspective and not take your anger out on others, especially in the workplace?

When you face post-pandemic strategic decisions, budget cuts, and employee challenges, how are you handling the pressures to bring out your best thinking and for those around you?

As a leader, your demeanor affects the tone of your work culture. People can tell as soon as you walk through the door or pop up on the Zoom screen what kind of mood you’re in.

Your moods, including your expressions and tone of voice, all determine the level of creativity and productivity around you.

Will Your Employees Speak up or Stay Silent?

If you’re angry, short-tempered, or condescending, your employees will shut down. And that’s a problem.

When your employees stop talking to you, they’ll start talking to each other and it won’t be good. It leads to gossip, turnover, and anxiety that prevents them from doing their best work.

As Berta Lippert says, “Being strong doesn’t always mean you have to fight the battle. True strength is being adult enough to walk away from the nonsense with your head held high.”

Being level-headed when stressed doesn’t happen by chance. It requires intentionality to choose behaviors that foster a positive work culture, even in the most challenging situations.

Level-headedness Starts with Self-awareness of your Family Factor®

More often than not, a quick temper and angry outbursts are driven by something deeper than what’s on the surface. Like my boss above, gaining awareness of behaviors modeled during upbringing offers critical insight into the root of the problem.

In my book How Did My Family Get In My Office?! I refer to the connection between how conflict was handled in upbringing to how you handle conflict today as the Family Factor®.  By addressing the emotional impact of events in your upbringing, you’ll identify wounds that have left scars. Through this acknowledgment and sorting through emotions, you can heal the wounds. You don’t have to carry scars with you for the rest of your life. You can change and improve how you respond when things don’t go as planned.

So, How can you Stay Level-headed, Especially During Conflict and Unexpected Challenges?

1. Identify your Family Factor®.

Reflect on what was modeled to you growing up, especially during conflict and expected challenges. Looking back at your upbringing isn’t to blame or shame family members. It’s simply to recognize how events growing up impacted you emotionally that need attention today.

2. Reframe to Stop Blame.

Take control of your mindset by reframing how you view past events and create a new perspective to move forward with your life. Reframing will prevent you from being a victim, so you take full responsibility for who you aspire to be today. Don’t forget to remember the positive events from your upbringing that contributed to your strengths and abilities.

3. Respect and Connect.

When possible, stay connected with family members and discuss events growing up. Respecting your family as part of your heritage and having conversations about the past can give new understanding, possibly even forgiveness. Having these conversations can be tricky, especially if there’s been abuse or other traumatic events in your upbringing that some family members may still be denying and not taking ownership of. Deciding on the degree of connection is a personal decision based on what’s healthy for you.

4. Resolve to Evolve.

Regardless of events from your upbringing and emotional scars, you can heal and grow, taking life lessons with you in your personal and professional lives. To evolve isn’t a destination – instead, it’s a commitment to be your best self and the author of your success.

Staying level-headed when faced with challenges requires honesty, humility, and a conscious choice. Like my boss, you can transform angry, reactive tendencies by addressing your Family Factor®. 

Schedule a complimentary strategy session with Bonnie today to identify your Family Factor® so you choose behaviors that foster a positive work culture, even in the most challenging situations.

About the author

Drawing from decades of experience as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie Artman Fox works with family-owned businesses that want to bring their teams together and create healthy work cultures that drive results.


For more stories about how real-life leaders gained awareness of their conflict style and improved their leadership effectiveness, get Bonnie’s book How Did My Family Get In My Office?!

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