Why The Knee Is The Most Dangerous Part Of A Leader’s Body

Leaders are constantly processing information, and in the course of doing that are called upon to make decisions based on that information.

Or not make them.

That’s where our knees come in.

Sometimes the nature of this information, its source, or the manner in which it was delivered,  puts some kind of strange electric charge into the knee, and consequently, it jerks upward, causing a powerful reaction.

And a big leadership mistake.

Mainly, a very premature and ill-informed action or decision.

The classic “knee-jerk response“.

It can badly wound or even ruin many a career,  but it doesn’t have to be that way – if this little “tic” can be controlled.

There are three main ways to do it:

  • Proper Anger Management
  • Respect for the Facts
  • Keeping Hearsay in Perspective

Let’s start with anger.   It lurks in many places in the workplace. It can be triggered in many ways – by an e-mail, or a remark at a meeting, or a contentious phone call.    Or by a negative report that points a finger at you.  Or maybe something as innocuous as spilling hot coffee on your brand new shirt.

Anger goes right to the knee, because it’s an emotion that is asking (no, begging) for a release.   I’ll give you a classic example – the flaming e-mail.   You know the one.   The e-mail that makes your blood boil before you even finish reading it.   You want to immediately write a response that fights the fire with more fire.

These kind of knee jerks can practically cause a hernia, they are so strong.   Anger must be managed – that release must go somewhere other than the knee.    Do some deep breathing.  Take a walk.  Go into your coat closet and scream.  Chant “serenity now” (don’t knock it, it has worked for me).   Just don’t let that knee jerk!  Deal with it later, when you’ve gotten that release another way.

Then, there’s respect for facts and keeping hearsay in perspective.  These two go hand in hand.     I’ve seen hearsay sink a lot of leadership ships because that pesky knee jumped way, way up and made a hasty decision based on very sketchy information.   Facts MUST be respected, in nearly every case.

There’s always the question of how many facts a leader needs to make a good decision (using the gut instead of the knee) –  because of the nature of business many decisions just have to be made with less than 100% of what is needed.   However,  it’s a reasonable assumption to shoot for at least 50%; that’s my minimum threshold.

That eliminates the prospect of decision-making based on a single shred of information that may look compelling at first glance – those are very well suited to causing the knee-jerk – but upon further investigation turn out to be less than accurate, or just plain wrong.

“Facts are stubborn things”, said the great American patriot John Adams.   What he didn’t say (and I’m sure her surely thought it) was that facts, and good anger management, will also save you a lot of trips to your orthopedist to pull that knee off your head.   Or, more importantly, trips to your bosses to explain your bad decisions.


  1. says

    Usually, CEOs have to take decisions having less than 10% of the information (hard facts).
    How can that be done w/o relaying on hearsay?

  2. says

    Thanks Debbie and Alex for your comments!

    Debbie, thanks for the kind words.

    Alex, a mentor of mine once told me “sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t do”. Like the ones based on little fact and a lot of hearsay. I’ve been in business for 28 years now, and while sometimes you can get lucky, and yes, sometimes a decision just has to be made, I rarely see much success at 10%/hearsay. Only for those who hold back from making any decision (the deal we don’t do).

    Again, my thanks to both of you, and all the best!


  3. says

    Terry, you are so right! The knee-jerk response (or amygdala hi-jacking as Daniel Goleman, the Emotional Intelligence guru calls it) is responsible for many a career-limiting or ending move. Great advice to gain emotional self-control before responding. I wonder how many people wish they could hit the ‘un-do’ button of an angry email.

  4. says

    Great post Terry. I think the biggest challenge as a leader is making a decision as soon as it needs to be made, but no sooner. There is a fine line between seeking too much information (and causing delays and perceived indecisiveness) and the “knee-jerk reaction” you describe. There have been countless times in my career where just buying a little more time by walking away for even a few minutes has led to much sounder decisions. And, regrettably, there have been a few times where I did make a decision too quickly and realized it later, when a better option came to mind or more data was discovered. This is a post well worth reading, thanks for writing it.

  5. says

    This is sound advice.

    Many leaders who get a lot done tend to react quickly by nature. But there is a difference between responding and reacting and leaders who are able to view their innate natures from the perspective that they, themselves, are works in progress tend to reap the benefits.



  1. Why The Knee Is The Most Dangerous Part Of A Leader’s Body | TerryStarbucker.com…

    Leaders are constantly processing information, and in the course of doing that are called upon to make decisions based on that information….

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