"Morale cleanup on aisle 5"

Anyone can lose their temper at work. It is a mistake that almost everyone makes more than once. When you are the leader of a team, the consequences of a lapse in composure are much more serious.

Not too long ago I was witness to a leader, who I respect, losing his composure in a meeting with his team.  Frankly speaking, it was a real mess.

The meeting started off fine but he became more and more irritated and then quite emotional and intense as he expressed his disappointment in the team.

Some team members tried to argue back, which only made it worse.  It was an extremely uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.  It was a classic case of a team leader losing his temper and not controlling his emotional reactions.

The team felt defeated and it was painfully obvious in their demeanor and body language.  I felt like saying, “Morale cleanup on Aisle 5.”

As I reflected on the situation, I believe that the leader was under a lot of pressure that day, not to mention the team was in fact falling short in some key areas.

In his heart, I know that he cares deeply about his team members, but the frustration got the best of him that day. His disappointment was certainly warranted, but the way he handled the situation really took a toll on the team’s morale.

You may know the feeling—you actions and behaviors get hijacked by your emotions.  So what do you do to resolve the situation, restore morale, and build up trust again?  Well it isn’t easy and it takes time, but there are a few things you can do to get the cleanup process started:

  • Let yourself “cool off” and reflect on what you said and did.  Make sense of the situation so you can objectively find a solution.
  • As soon as possible, deal with the situation and take responsibility for your actions.  This will help people see that you are being proactive rather than reactive.  You definitely don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen or take a “wait and see” approach.
  • Verbally acknowledge that you allowed your emotions to get the best of you and provide a genuine apology.  You don’t necessarily have to apologize for your perspective or feelings about the issue, but you should take responsibility for how you handled it.
  • Avoid making excuses or placing blame.  While you may have what you think are legitimate excuses, others will likely feel like you are not being sincere.
  • Depending on the situation, you may have to allow others to express their thoughts and feelings or you may need to meet with individual team members to help repair the relationship.
  • Avoid getting frustrated with those who feel offended, defeated, or put off.  Let them work through their own emotions about your behavior.
  • Work hard to rebuild morale and your credibility and remember that it may take longer than you would like for the situation to be fully resolved.

There are situations where emotion and passion is appropriate.  Think of some of the best leaders in history—they are often known for their emotional pleas and passionate “calls to action”.

Sometimes the passion and emotion is the right mechanism for getting people to change or to see the importance of your message.  Just go about it in a methodical and well-planned out way and then and keep it reigned in appropriately so you don’t take it further than you want to.  If you make the choice to let your emotions emerge, be prepared for the fallout that may occur if it doesn’t go as planned.

When you are facing an emotionally charged situation, think of the situation in three phases—before, during, after so you don’t find yourself needing to do morale cleanup:


  • Recognize when you are facing a potentially difficult situation or feel like you are in precarious emotional state.
  • Explore how you are feeling and work through your emotions before addressing the situation.
  • Write down the message you intend to share in clear, less-emotional terms so you have something to reference if you start to lose control.
  • Postpone a meeting or discussion if you find yourself feeling overly stressed and emotional.


  • Be ever aware of how you are feeling. Consider alerting your team that your emotions are running high.
  • Find a physical object to focus on, a thought, or a note that will be a reminder to you to stop and get control of your emotions.
  • Call a “time out” if you feel like you start to feel emotionally hijacked.  Give yourself time to breathe and re-think how to handle the situation.


  • Identify what you did or said that worked well.
  • Identify what you did or said that did not work well.
  • Get resolution for things that may not have gone well if needed.
  • Keep working on developing your emotional intelligence.

Leadership can be challenging and even the best leaders make mistakes.  So spend your time enhancing morale and focusing on solutions to the real issues and problems you are facing rather than cleaning up morale messes caused by destructive emotions.


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About the Author
Stephanie Mead
Ms. Mead has experience in operations management, leadership development curriculum design, organization development consulting, and international operations. Stephanie has developed complete leadership development curriculums for some of the world’s leading organizations. Her experience also includes creating specialized learning experiences and blended learning programs aimed at maximizing human and organization performance. Stephanie has also co-authored 4 books with other CMOE consultants.

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