Don’t Let Emotions Get the Better of You

Why CFOs Need to Act Mindfully in the Moments that Matter

Can you recall a time when you made a mistake in a critical moment? As a CFO, this can be an incredibly stressful time. Perhaps you’ve found yourself replaying the scene over and over again in your mind and thinking about how you would do things differently if you had your time over. It’s possible that in this moment, your emotions got the better of you (even just a little), and instead of acting mindfully, you reacted mindlessly and as a consequence your performance suffered.

As a performance and leadership coach, much of my work focuses on helping people understand how acting mindfully enables them to show up as their best when required. In order to do this, we explore what’s happening between the ears so we can then develop strategies to perform under pressure in the moments that matter.

The Brain

The brain is thought to be able to process danger even before we are consciously aware of it. You might have experienced that yourself when you “didn’t have time to think” you just acted, or when something “just didn’t feel right.” For example, you instinctively sway back from the roadside as a truck passes, or you reach out to hold your child back as they step towards a ledge.

When it comes to physical threats, acting before you think might just save your life, but when it comes to other kinds of threats, acting before you think might just cost you your job, or a relationship.

But there’s a problem. Whilst the brain is quick to process threats, it struggles to distinguish between different types of threats, so it tends to respond the same way regardless of the situation.

Fight, Flight or Freeze?

One common threat in the corporate world is the ego threat that comes about if we feel embarrassed or humiliated, or nervous about how our superiors perceive us. Despite knowing we’re in no physical danger, our heartrate and breathing rate increases and our pupils dilate just as if we’ve been confronted by an aggressive dog. We’re primed to fight, fly or freeze.

When faced with ego threats, if we’re prone to the fight response, we might arc up in a meeting or send a robust reply via email making sure to ‘cc’ all staff.

Those prone to the flight response might run out of the room, whilst if you’re more likely to freeze, you’ll cognitively “play dead” and hope that people leave you alone. 

The people I work with, whether they are professional athletes or corporate leaders often face moments in which the consequences of a poor performance are seen as high stakes. Often, this will manifest as a threat or a danger, so they must guard against emotions getting the better of them.

In order for my clients to act mindfully in these moments we work hard to Prepare, Breathe and Reflect.


One technique we employ is to have no doubt. This isn’t a supreme – often false – confidence in their ability, rather it refers to being in no doubt they have done the work to give themselves the best chance of performing well.

For some this means literal work, ie: have they done the research or have they refined their skillset?

For others, aspects of the preparation might be cerebral. For example, in order to manage high pressure moments, World #1 and 2021 Wimbledon Champion, Ash Barty speaks publicly of her work with a mindset coach to rationalise what she does with who she is as a person.

When we stop defining ourselves by our success or otherwise at work (or as a partner or parent), the important moments still matter, but our perspective on them changes for the better, and as a result our performance can improve.


Choosing to breath slower and deeper during the moments that matter, activates our body’s parasympathetic system. This calms us down, relaxes and slows our heart rate. In this state that we are far more likely to make more mindful decisions, handle disagreements more effectively and perform better under pressure, particularly if you have prepared well and have cues or reminders to help you.

Many athletes I work with write key words or phrases on their wrist strapping, while corporate leaders might have phrases or cues around their workspace, or even in their presentations to help them remain mindful.


I recommend journaling with all my clients because it helps us to dissect successes and setbacks in exactly the same way. Reflect on what went well, what we learned and what, if anything, we might do differently next time.

Because if you’re good at what you do, there will definitely be a next time.

Author – Dan Haesler, author of The Act of Leadership (Wiley, $29.95), is a high-performance coach whose clients include elite athletes and Olympians, as well as corporate and educational leaders. As a sought-after speaker, he regularly presents alongside industry leaders, Olympians, the occasional Oscar winner and even His Holiness the Dalai Lama on topics of leadership, mindset, motivation and peak performance. Find out more at www.danhaesler.com