Traditionally, high value has been placed on splitting or compartmentalizing “personal life” and work. There has been pressure in the workplace to behave rationally, productively and with focus – day in and day out. The message has been to shut out personal circumstances, emotions, and life experiences and be task and accomplishment oriented. For leaders, the expectation has been to be driven and a driving force for others, relentlessly pushing the business and the team forward. Within this framework there has been no room for emotions, emotional energy, and in some ways real humanity. This has been part of the gender divide in the work place – for many years women were considered too emotional to be leaders.
The fallacy in all of this is that all human beings experience emotions and emotional energy is a very powerful force. There are multiple consequences of being in denial of your own emotional circumstances:
- If you can’t be with your own emotions, you can’t be with anybody else’s.
- Denying, stuffing, repressing or suppressing emotions creates stress and takes a lot of energy. This means everything from undue emotional reactions to stressed out employees who wind up taking sick leave and filing stress claims.
- If there are no methods or means within your own skill set or your organization’s culture to navigate emotions “below the water line,” there are a lot of issues and challenges that are festering and not addressed.
So what does it mean to lead with heart? Does it mean that every day needs to be full of the touchy-feely squishy stuff? Does it mean that you need to act as a therapist to your team and spend your days talking about their emotions? No, of course not. However, there are steps you can take that will create space for the power of emotions and, in turn, create very positive change:
- Develop compassion as a value within yourself and your organization. Compassion is not sympathy or feeling sorry for each other. Allow yourself to see and acknowledge another’s circumstances, fears, worries, and concerns. This simple step will open the door to finding alternatives and positive solutions.
- Recognize that connection to emotional energy varies greatly among people. Some people scan the world through the lens of emotional intelligence and it is one of their primary means of navigation. This is not, by definition, a bad thing. If you have team members who are on the more emotional end of the spectrum, instead of writing them off, use them as a bellwether for how your team is doing. If you are the one who is more tuned in to emotional energy, allow yourself to really face what you are seeing, hearing and feeling and mine that for valuable information and as a guide to action.
- Make it safe for people to name where they are emotionally and also name the emotional impact of what might be happening in their workplace relationships. If people can simply say their truth and be heard, issues dissipate much more quickly than when they are ignored and fester.
- Realize that your authentic willingness to listen does not mean you have to agree or fix it for another. Listening itself provides great value.
Consider what might happen if you expand your leadership and your organization’s culture to allow more heart. You might be surprised at the positive outcomes.