Dear Dan: It’s Increasingly Difficult to Keep My Frustration from my Staff

Dear Dan,

I just discovered your article entitled, “You Feel Things Your Team Shouldn’t Know About,” and I realized that I probably don’t do as good a job at this as I should.

It’s not that I don’t have a poker face, but until recently I lived under the delusion that being “THAT TRANSPARENT” was a mark of honesty.

Your article had some practical tips which are good. I’m about 2.5 years into the CEO job. It’s a first for me and a first for the nonprofit I’m leading to have a CEO. I’ve also moved into a bigger market and away from 90% of my personal and professional support networks.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep frustrations from my staff and as you put it, my “silence” often says as much as any tirade.

I appreciate the advice from the blog, but anything specific to my situation would be most welcome.



Dear New,

Congratulations on earning a CEO role. It occurs to me that you have the opportunity to tailor the leadership role to your strengths since it’s a first for you and your organization. Fun. Well, challenging, too.

So let’s think about emotional control.

5 insights about emotional control:

#1. Emotional control isn’t ignoring or suppressing emotion.

Self-awareness includes awareness of emotion. It’s not useful to pretend you’re not frustrated when you’re boiling inside.

#2. Emotional control begins with noticing emotion.

You can’t manage what you refuse to face.

I’ve read that noticing and naming emotion helps with managing and controlling emotion.

#3. Emotional control makes emotion useful.

  1. Anxiety is encouragement to prepare.
  2. Frustration points to something you want but aren’t getting.
  3. Anger helps you see your values.
  4. Fear points out what you don’t want to lose.

#4. Emotional control acknowledges the power of emotion, while understanding its limitations.

Feelings don’t know fact from fiction.

The vampire on the screen in the theater isn’t real but you still feel afraid. Emotion is response to perception, not necessarily reality.

#5. Emotional control isn’t pretending you’re something you aren’t.

Don’t pretend you’re happy when you’re frustrated.

The challenge of emotional control is responding like a leader to emotion.

Emotion isn’t bad, but the way we express or respond to emotion can harm others. Additionally, responding poorly to emotion can derail your leadership.

How to practice emotional control like a leader:

#1. Believe emotion is valuable.


  1. Enables connection.
  2. Alerts you to issues that might not be obvious. Something doesn’t feel right.
  3. Let’s people know you care about them.
  4. Tells you what you value.
  5. Energizes action. (Of course, negative emotion drains resolve.)

#2. Express emotion AND respond to emotion like a leader.

  1. “I’m concerned about losing this customer. I’m counting on you to find ways to meet their needs.”
  2. “It’s frustrating to work and fall short. What do you want to do about that?”
  3. “What are your plans to bring this project in on time?” Use this instead of saying, “I’m worried we won’t get this done on time.”
  4. When something doesn’t feel right, say, “Tell me more.”

Notice emotion and then turn toward the future. Looking to the future when you’re frustrated includes questions like:

  1. What are you going to do next?
  2. How can you make things better?
  3. What are you tolerating that you should confront?
  4. What’s important to you?
  5. What do you want?

Anger loves to hide behind helplessness.

Use frustration as a tool to identify what matters and motivation to make something better.

Frankly, leaders worth their salt know what it means to grapple with anger. You don’t care enough if you don’t get angry sometimes.

#3. Find support outside your team.

You need friends, mentors, and coaches. Avoid coddlers.

Isolation is the predecessor of tragedy in leadership.

There have been a few times in my leadership when I picked up the phone and said things to a friend that I wouldn’t say to anyone else. I used words I don’t normally use.

Hearing myself blow off steam helped me know I wasn’t being rational. Getting-it-out strengthens emotional control.

My wife patiently listens to many of my day-to-day frustrations. Perhaps that’s an important reason why I haven’t had to blow off steam for quite some time.

There are mixed reviews on the value of venting. But there have been a few situations where venting to a trusted friend saved me.

#4. Journal.

During the dark days of leadership start journaling. Write what you really think. I don’t journal much these days. But there have been seasons in my leadership when it helped tremendously.

Writing Leadership Freak is one way I vent.

You might not see the frustration but it’s often behind the words. These posts are my way of solving my own frustrations with leadership.

#5. Learn about the impostor syndrome.

The impostor syndrome makes sincere, honest, talented leaders feel like frauds. Leaders at the highest levels fear that others will find out they aren’t qualified to lead.

Choose to become your aspirational-self, even if you feel like a faker. When you test out new behaviors, you might feel like you’re not being real. If you can’t act, even when you feel like a fake, you’ll never grow.

Listen to your aspirational-self, not the accusations of your inner impostor.

Bonus: Small expressions of frustration can motivate others, if they’re rare and your team respects you.

You have my best,


What suggestions do you have for New CEO?

How have you practiced emotional control?

*I suspend my 300 word limit on weekends.