I was aghast.
Watching Brett Kavanaugh conduct himself in front of the Judiciary Committee last Thursday. I’m not talking about Mr. Kavanaugh’s prepared remarks, startling as they were. No, his behavior while engaging with senators who were questioning him. Both in his choice of words and the involuntary body language.
Petulant, impatient, dismissive, petty, indignant.
Sorry, Mr. Kavanaugh. That’s not how a leader behaves when the stakes are high. When your messy emotions kick in. Not any time, ever.
It’s the behavior of an entitled brat who fears that all his entitlements will be taken away, says my friend David, like Mr. Kavanaugh a Yale Law School alum, as we watch the proceedings together on tv.
So nakedly un-leaderlike. So brazenly out of control.
I think of Serena Williams’ well-publicized outburst during her loss in the Final of this year’s US Open. I am in awe of Ms. Williams accomplishments and her athletic prowess. I applaud her for challenging the umpire when she felt that his calls were unfair. For suggesting there might be sexism at play. And then Ms. Williams’ rage got the best of her. She went on and on. And on. She couldn’t stop.
Emotion ran her. She paid a price for her high-stakes behavior.
I watched part of the wonderful HBO documentary “Being Serena” just days before the US Open Final. Filmed during Ms. Williams’ pregnancy, I was struck by the disarming clarity and honesty with which she articulated her anxiety: I had the fear that I can’t be the best mother and best tennis player in the world, Williams says.
It gets a bad rap in current pop psychology. Folks like to label it a “bad” emotion. An unenlightened one. Dwell on fear and you will magnify it, so they say.
Hooey. Our anger is more often than not a mask for fear. Stuff it and ignore it, and it will boil up big time in a high-stakes situation. Be emotionally intelligent, please. Notice it. Own it. Dance with it.
Consider Christine Blasey Ford.
Afraid? She was terrified, by her own account. A professor and psychologist with an impressive professional pedigree, she teared up in her testimony – her voice cracking – but she did not openly cry or break down. She smiled. She pleaded for caffeine and joked about Google interns renting out her home.
Ford was emotional. And she managed her emotions. She cracked the high-stakes behavior code.
Women are walking a very fine line, says Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford who studies gender inequality. Too much or too little of something can lead people to discredit them. That so many people found Dr. Blasey Ford credible suggests that she was able to get across that tightrope and not fall off. (NY Times, 9/29/2018, page A17)
Mr. Kavanaugh displayed the wounded-little-boy code. Pouting, bullying, juvenile temper tantrums. Sorry, Mr. Kavanaugh. No. Not ever. Not leadership behavior under any circumstance, other current leadership examples notwithstanding.
If he were a woman we’d be questioning if she were unhinged, said Alicia Melendez, a correspondent for PBS, when describing Judge Kavanaugh’s behavior during his hearing,
Fear. Face it. Serena Williams got it right, even if her own behavior at the US Open showed how hard is to do just that.
Face it. Own it. Dance with it.
Retire the little boy code. Its time has come and gone. Want to act like a leader? Play a high-stakes game in the big leagues? Own your emotions, all of them. Know what you feel. Face it. Dance with it.
And stop lashing out.
That’s the high-stakes leadership code. Time for the little boys to grow up.