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The Full-Time Leader: Venting in the Context of Leadership

It is simply human nature that as we get to know people and develop relationships, we grow increasingly comfortable around them. As relationships grow, we become even more candid, transparent and authentic. We may offer opinions more frequently, complain at times and share perceptions of events, ideas or people more openly. This vulnerability evidenced through increasing candor serves to confirm and further develop our human relationships.

Leaders are people too. In fact, this ability to lead while being candid, authentic and vulnerable to a degree, is one of the attributes that makes great leaders great. But, even leaders experience frustration and need an outlet to vent.

There are numerous stories in the media, nearly daily, demonstrating ill-advised mechanisms of venting by leaders. Consider, Twitter… Need I say more? Avoiding self-inflicted activities that erode your leadership brand may seem obvious. But a less obvious behavior is commonplace for many leaders and prevents them from being great.

Consider your relationship with a staff member who you’ve known and appreciated for many years – are there times that your frustrations have been too transparent? Perhaps, at the end of a long day or project? Or while traveling?

Employees expect great leaders to provide effective leadership which includes a consistency of presence and overall message. When a leader who is consistently visionary, driven, inspiring, challenging, and who gets things done, suddenly speaks negatively of a business priority, project or people, employees “following” that leader notice. The inconsistent behavior, despite the familiar relationship and the human need to vent, stands out to those around the leader.

Those around you are assessing your words and actions. If you causally comment negatively on a business initiative, question the priority of an effort established by others, or comment on a peer or other executive, your direct report will know, and will likely modify their own behaviors or judgements based on yours. And even worse, they may share your perspective with others within their own sphere of influence or familiarity (“Did you hear that…?”).

Leadership is a full-time job; those around us are always observing our behaviors, actions and comments -- always. They are looking for subtle clues, minor comments or other behaviors that can serve to inform their own beliefs and actions, and perhaps help them get ahead of the curve.

So, how do great leaders handle their frustrations?

  1. Leverage safe environments: As human nature would dictate, sometimes even great leaders still need to vent. Instead of opening up around other employees, they use generalities to confide in a family member or close friend outside of work (being deliberate to avoid disclosing anything confidential or proprietary). The safe outlet provides them with a release to talk about “it.”

  2. Gain perspective: Great leaders consider relevant business dynamics and landscapes as a means of understanding the situation. They rely on perspectives from mentors and people they trust to better shape their own understanding and beliefs of the situation at hand. They ask questions and seek to understand, in order to learn – listening more than they talk.

  3. Be constructive: They share their gained perspective to get others on board – to help calm the frustrations of others. Often, having a viable explanation or rationale, even if people don’t like it, serves to ease the level of frustration experienced by many. Additionally, they shift into problem solving mode. Great leaders figure out how to help the team succeed in the face of challenges. They ask probing questions, ideate and challenge conventional thinking to inspire, motivate and empower the teams around them to see a path forward. This refocuses the team on getting the job done relieving their frustrations.

  4. Lead by example: Your job is to lead by example -- and it is a full-time job. Great leaders manage their emotions and show up as the leaders they want to be…consistently.

The power of leadership is really amazing – just think about it. As leaders, we have the opportunity to shape peoples’ perceptions, beliefs and behaviors. We have the opportunity to inspire them to follow our vision and lead, committing their own time, passion and energy. We can achieve great things through our inspiration, reach and influence of others. It is truly a gift to be a leader and achieve great things by mobilizing others.

We owe it to our employers and employees to show up as that leader – to challenge, inspire, achieve and lead all day, every day! Remember the impact your words and actions have on the perceptions of those that follow you. Be the leader you want to be.

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Lisa Andrade is founder and CEO of M33, an executive coaching and leadership development company proven in both the “executive” and “coaching” in executive coaching. M33 leverages the art of leadership and advanced leadership science to create an executive blueprint tailored to you and your organization. For an initial consultation with Lisa, contact M33 at

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