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Obama's Secret Weapon: His Adrenal Gland

By Marty Nemko

By Marty Nemko

At the risk of losing all credibility, I believe that core to Barack Obama’s having entranced the nation is his adrenal gland.

People vary in their responses to stress. On a 10-point scale, a 0 secretes almost no adrenaline, even if the building is on fire. A 10 flies off the handle in response to a slight. He goes from 0-60 in one second and even in the absence of stress, seems a bit agitated.

Obama is a 4. He secretes just enough adrenaline to appear enthusiastic when it’s called for, but never overreacts, indeed appears unflappable, even in response to Hillary’s barbs. That physiology-based calm also enables him to always stay on-message. Nothing can annoy him enough to make him lose sight of the fact that his focus-group tested message is probably more vote-getting than any other statement he could make. Also, being calm but not lethargic makes others feel calm but not lethargic.

Of course, Obama’s being a 4 may also be affected by his upbringing, his faith, etc., but his physiology is undoubtedly a factor. Talk to any 10 and he’ll readily admit that his body releases a surge of adrenaline in response to stress that makes him overreact. Most 0s will admit they have a hard time getting worked up about anything --If other people in a room hear a startling noise that makes their hearts leap, a 0 will be not feel physically different.

Your adrenal gland profoundly affects your success in the workplace, even if you’re not applying for the nation’s top job. Develop a reputation as a hothead and your chances of getting ahead plummet. Develop a reputation as emotionally flat, and you’ll be viewed as lazy or not dynamic enough.

Of course, some of this is beyond your control. Your body will react as it’s going to. But there are things that people from 0 to 10 can do to maximize their career success.

If you’re a 0-2: Keep top-of-mind the importance of what you do--that can increase your energy level. Remember that even if you’re a clerk, what you do affects people’s lives. Too, it may help to have a cup of coffee in the morning and/or a half hour before you must do important work or attend a key meeting.

If you’re a 3-5: Be grateful. Your physiology is in sync with what most American workplaces reward: a generally calm but not phlegmatic demeanor, getting moderately enthusiastic as called for, but rarely getting angry or even ecstatic. (Remember Howard Dean’s 10-level war whoop? That single moment killed his presidential campaign.) And be confident that your natural demeanor is the most likely to help you succeed in the typical workplace.

If you’re a 6-8: Be vigilant to not overreact to stresses, and try to place yourself in situations in which you’re less likely to be stressed. Rehearse 3-5-like responses to emotional situations. In response to something positive, in pleasant but not exuberant tones, use phrases like, “I’m delighted.” or “Good job.” In response to something negative, in modulated tones, say such things as “I’m disappointed” or “I’m a bit concerned about that.”

If you’re a 9-10: You really should put yourself in work situations unlikely to yield much stress. For example, if you have a boss who drives you nuts, it’s particularly important that you try to get transferred or find a job with a different employer. If time-pressure or high-stakes decision-making even occasionally leads you to blow your top, do everything you can to change your job description or to a less adrenaline-triggering environment.

I am an 8 and have addressed my potential to overreact by being self-employed, working in my quiet home office, firing clients who annoy me, and doing tasks that use my best skills and so don’t stress me--like writing this column.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian named Nemko, “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach.” 500+ of his published writings are free on

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