Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

What Happens When Bosses Freak Out

Image via JrCasas/Shutterstock.com

So, the Super Bowl this year is guaranteed to have a winning coach named Harbaugh when John of the Baltimore Ravens and Jim of the San Francisco 49ers square off against each other. It’s the first time brothers have ever faced each other in the big game. It should be a good one and is bound to be entertaining if for no other reason than it will be fun to watch the contrasting styles of each Harbaugh. John is more of the quiet, lower key leader while Jim is unconstrained across the full range of emotion. And, as he proved in the NFC championship game, he is the master of the total freak out.

Late in the game when a challenged call did not go his team’s way, Jim Harbaugh reacted with a sideline tantrum that many have described as epic. He totally freaked out. It was pretty hilarious to watch. (See it here for yourself on a continuous loop which makes it even funnier.)

One of the things that makes the Harbaugh freak out funny is that it was this sudden eruption that was over as quickly as it started. It didn’t really have an impact on anyone other than Jim Harbaugh. It’s a rare occurrence of a leader freaking out without creating any actual damage.

Of course, there’s not much entertainment value when an executive leader freaks out in the workplace. You’ve likely seen it, been on the receiving end of it or maybe even done it. An executive loses his or her cool and lets it rip. Because of their high profile and the size of their leadership footprint, executives can cause a lot of damage when they freak out.

Here’s what happens when executives freak out and some thoughts for leaders on how to avoid freaking out:

The Impact of Executive Freak Outs –

Lost productivity ripples throughout the organization: When an executive freaks out, productivity goes out the window. People stop what they’re doing and gawk. Or, they get too scared to do anything. Or, trying to head off another freak out, they start doing everything – usually pointless things – trying to anticipate what the exec really wants. In each of these cases, the important work isn’t getting done.

Eye rolls of disengagement: When the freak out is an executive’s go to move, the people around him or her eventually disengage. They’ve seen it so many times before so they just roll their eyes (either visibly or to themselves) and move on. It was just another unpleasant episode in a string of episodes that drain everyone’s energy and enthusiasm.

Negative role modeling: Unfortunately, after witnessing regular executive freak outs, some in the organization may conclude that’s how leaders roll and adopt the practice themselves. Pretty soon, this negative role modeling leads to a toxic culture in which nothing meaningful gets done.

How to Avoid Freaking Out Yourself -

If you find yourself looking in the mirror and see someone who’s engaged in a few freak outs (I have), here are three quick questions to ask yourself the next time you feel one coming on:

How much does this really matter? A few years ago, Suzy Welch wrote a book called 10 – 10 – 10. The big idea was for any seemingly important situation, ask yourself, “Will this matter 10 minutes from now? Will this matter 10 days from now? Will this matter 10 years from now?” One thing for sure is it’s not worth freaking out over things that won’t matter 10 minutes from now.

Does this matter to anyone besides me? This is the ego check question. Is what you’re about to freak out about all about you or is it actually for the good of the enterprise?

What alternatives to a freak out are available for making my point? This just in – there are lots of alternatives.

Let’s hear your perspective? What are the impacts of executive freak outs? How can they be stopped before they start?

Image via JrCasas/Shutterstock.com

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.