A friend and I had a lively debate not long ago, over the role emotions play in one’s career as a leader. (Yes, my circle of friends and I have nothing better to do.) The following recollection of our conversation is entirely biased to support my position. 🙂
To make a point about the pitfalls of letting emotions guide our behaviours, I was forced to listen to Simon & Garfunkel’s song “I Am A Rock”:
I’ve built walls; A fortress deep and mighty; That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pains
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock I am an island
Don’t talk of love; Well I’ve heard the word before; It’s sleeping in my memory
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried
I am a rock I am an island
(Lyrics by Paul Simon)
I’ll spare you from having to read the rest (although for the curious, you can listen to this song here).
The fact that this song is from the 1960s was the opportunity I was waiting for to counter my friend’s points about the benefits and importance of:
• staying objective
• making rational decisions
• ensuring fairness
Leaders from that era were focused on managing efficiencies, transforming teams and organizations with better systems and processes. Therefore, it was only logical that emotions be taken out of the equation, and leaders (like machines) were stress-tested in similar ways. An ability to ‘manage-under-stress’ was revered as a leadership trait, and phrases like, “Never let them see you sweat!” was what great men and women leaders were capable of doing.
Times have changed. Society and employees have changed.
The biggest change in the way we lead, compared to 60 years ago when the ‘Rock’ song was released, has been at the relationship-level between leaders and their followers. “Servant leaders” are now commonplace, and demonstrate the shift in direction from followers following leaders, to leaders serving their followers. You may have heard the common realization by organizations that the “people are the most valuable asset.” Emotional intelligence (the genesis-topic of this blog series) and people skills, such as coaching, have become the staple leaders and aspiring leaders expect even before enrolling in MBA and Executive Management programmes. All 4 dimensions of emotional intelligence are required, and determine how successful leaders are in building trust and confidence with they people in their direct and indirect human relationships.
We are all leaders, in our own way. Three elements that will support modern leaders well are:
- Vulnerability – that aspect of ourselves we’re willing to expose to others, even when there’s a risk of being harmed, shamed or judged. Admitting mistakes and speaking of what makes them feel anxious are ways leaders can demonstrate this. Leaders who still think being vulnerable makes them look weak or imperfect need to look at the research from Dr. Brené Brown who educates us on the Power of Vulnerability. Are we willing to cut out gratitude, joy, love, creativity, or acceptance from our relationships?
- Compassion – unlike empathy, we are going beyond intellectual or emotional understanding, to the action of kindness. Compassion connects us with each other, strengthens our relationships, and supports one another through inspiration and goodwill. A compassionate leader cares.
- Humanize leadership – rather than think of leadership as a science or an art, Herbert Joly, the ex-CEO of Best Buy rather us think of it as a “movement.” “We cannot be authentic and truly connect with others without deeply connecting with ourselves.” (The Heart of Business, 2021) I like the thought of the most valuable assets in our organization as heartcounts, instead of headcounts. To lead human beings, we must also be human.
I liken emotions as a warm blanket that covers us completely, and in return, we should embrace it unreservedly.
So who won the debate? We didn’t make a final judgement at the end of the day. However, based on globally accepted playground rules, blanket beats rock! 😛
Your comments are always welcomed! Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.