Business Composure and Leadership

start a business - entrepreneurs - startups

Never let ’em see you sweat. Leadership in any sector — business, government, non-profit, or military — depends on image. Personal presentation.

Steve Rucinski, who blogs at Small Business CEO and Small Business Trends Radio, comments that,

The …lesson I learned early in my business career … is ‘business composure.’ People respect that composure even when circumstances are hectic. My belief is composure is not stilted, never out of control; passion yes, anger no.

Steve’s insight can be used by the leadership of any enterprise. Especially during emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans’ Mayor Ray Nagin cried during a WWL radio interview. Senator Mary Landrieu shed a tear on ABC’s This Week while describing “one pitiful” crane working on a levee. The Hurricane Aftermath is heart breaking and everyone should have a good cry.

But not the boss. Not in public. As Steve might suggest, lack of composure looks out of control.

A hundred years ago, as a young army lieutenant, one of my first lessons was that, “An ounce of appearance was worth a pound of performance.”

How petty! I thought. So superficial!

And so true. But appearances matter.

My first superior in the army was a Captain Aykroyd, (unrelated to Dan). A soft-spoken West Pointer who was most patient in providing guidance in the finer points of Leadership. I once was tasked with the delivery of a pink umbrella misplaced by some Colonel’s wife.

So I was off, with a jaunty step.

“No,” Capt Aykroyd said. “An Officer does not parade about with a pink umbrella.”

I instead wrapped the offensive girly accoutrement with manly red, green and yellow firing range flags and completed my mission. Appearances are an authentic part of the Conduct of Leadership.

Business Composure and image are independent of gender: A woman could carry that umbrella. But a woman in uniform could not.

I did not need to be reminded to never cry, never blubber in front of the troops.

In World War II on May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill gave his first speech to the House of Commons as Great Britain’s Prime Minister. He famously said:

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering. To reach profitability.

OK, I added that last part.

Churchill, with a bulldog image, spoke of war. Not of business; but it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.

Churchill offered tears; he didn’t produce them.

He closed his speech thus,

“Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

Leadership in war, in a hurricane and in life depends on your “Business Composure.”


Jack Yoest John Wesley (Jack) Yoest Jr., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America. His expertise is in management training and development, operations, sales, and marketing. Professor Yoest is the president of Management Training of DC, LLC. A former Captain in the U.S. Army and with various stints as a corporate executive, he also served as Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Resources in the Administration of Governor James Gilmore of Virginia.

15 Reactions
  1. Absolutely agree. Presentation is a key part of business, not simply selling to clients, but also in maintaining unity within a company. You need to feel that the person above you can control any relevant situation thrown at them – but also for the person’s below. And if they feel they can’t cope, you need to show them that you could.


  2. No one wants to feel uneasy about the person they entrust with their business. That is why it is important to maintain your composure in public as a professional. A good manager must adapt to a myriad of stressful situations, this means that they cannot let their emotions get the best of them. That being said, I truly enjoyed this piece because it reiterated that everyone has moments where they get caught up in their emotions. The difference between a good presenter is that he/she knows how to market him/herself professionally, and this person also tries their hardest to contain themselves. I also find it interesting that you related military situations to business. I have seen the two compared in the past, but the story about the umbrella was an excellent twist. Great work Professor Yoest!

    • Leanne, thank you for your kind words — you are right, the manager must have his emotions under control.

      As noted in the Biblical reference, Proverbs 15:1, A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.


  3. Composure is a huge part of business and anything in life. I really enjoyed this article as it was a reminder that many people are faced with adversity but you can never succumb to it and allow yourself to be looked at as weak in the eyes of competition. I thought of Bill Belichick, the head football coach for the New England Patriots and while I am not a fan of his team I appreciate his leadership skills, especially when things are looking down and his back is against the wall. Coach Belichick is often seen on the sideline with the same cut off hoodie and the same blank facial expression and if the opposing team scores he writes down adjustments on a pocketbook he keeps with him and keeps going. That head down mentality is the type of composure I believe leads the most efficiently and helps those around him. Getting out of control and yelling or crying at those around you does nothing to advance your point or motivate. Motivation of teams comes from a composed and positive stance that lets those around know that no matter what we are always coming out on top.

  4. Madalaina D'Angelo

    Adding to the difficulties of being a management/anyone in a leadership position is the public persona– “never let ’em see you sweat” or “make it look easy” while dealing with inner stress or emotions or personal problems can make a stressful job even more difficult, no doubt. It’s fine line, though, I think, because there also is a certain pleasure in seeing a person in an authority position also be human and relatable and vulnerable; I prefer making myself as available and grounded as possible when in a leadership position, and I find myself enjoying working with management who is hands on and down to earth and involved rather than high and mighty and seemingly untoutchable.

  5. When considering an image of a leader, one’s mind can swirl around with examples. Brawny, robust military men to small, almost frail looking women, such as Mother Teresa come to mind for me. A leader keeps calm when chaos arises, someone with poise who shows respect and works for the common interest. Through my experiences, I have learned that to be good leader composure is essential, but once a situation has concluded it is okay to breathe a huge sigh of relief or even shed a tear or two. Additionally, the leader must not dwell on a situation, and keep moving forward.

  6. Catherine Warchot

    I agree that it is really important for a manager to maintain a professional image. By saying this, I do not mean that they cannot show emotion. I think that a good manager should know when its appropriate to show empathy, especially after something tragic. However, being overly emotional by crying or “blubbering” is something that they should be able to control, as it ruins their professional image. Showing empathy when appropriate is important because it is important for a good manager to be personable. Showing emotion is a good way of being personable, but one must remember to not overdo it.

  7. Samantha Pemberton

    Composure and appearances are such a huge part of managing, or being a supervisor of any kind. When subordinates see their manager acting calm, cool and collected in times of uncertainty or crisis they believe that the situation is under control and have nothing to worry about. However, if they see their manager losing his head when the day goes sideways then they are more likely to lose their cool as well, and no one, including the company, benefits from people losing their head. Learning to stay composed during times of uncertainty is a skill that takes a while to master, however once it is mastered “[That] ounce of appearance [is] worth a pound of performance.”

  8. I totally agree that image and presentation are essential to any type of organization. How one presents themselves is a reflection of their beliefs, values, and what they represent. No matter what environment, one needs to adhere to these same notions. In a work setting how employees not only dress, but act is an indicator of how that organization may perform, represent, and act. Sometimes in life there are instances that may affect ones mood or environment, but they need to remember the bigger picture. No matter what outside influencers may be causing them trouble, how they overall present themselves is a reflection of their organization work/stand for.

  9. Joseph Lasaracino

    Professional ability is the strongest attribute one can demonstrate in an office. The way you present yourself should be titled with composure and confidence. When a leader, especially a manager faces a crises, it is in those moment when he or she exemplifies perseverance. In the case of the Hurricane Katrina incidence relating to business, it is fine to be emotional and passionate, but one must be able to rally and unify people to work towards a common goal. Image is a vital quality, and displaying that to your colleagues allows others to admire and approach their image in identical ways.

  10. Mary Margaret Sheridan

    This article reminds us how important image is for a leader. I can remember an instance from playing high school lacrosse that illustrates this same sentiment. During one particularly disappointing game that we were losing, our new head coach called a time out to try to rally us. She was very upset about how we were playing after working so hard all season. During this time out, she started crying because she was so upset that we weren’t reaching our full potential. Looking back, I think it was in that moment that the players started to lose respect for her. There is a difference between being passionate, moving, and inspiring and then being overemotional and unprofessional. When you cross that line and lose composure, it will be hard to maintain your professional image.

  11. It is key for people in power to maintain composure in order to not set the mass into turmoil. If people see the people that they trust and look to in times of need struggling then they will feel that they must be frightened also if that person is.

Win $100 for Vendor Selection Insights

Tell us!
No, Thank You