All leaders are faced with a tremendous amount of responsibility. But with that businesslike attitude and heavy baggage comes feelings and emotions. I generally keep my emotions in check, and frequently, people close to me don’t really know how I feel about something. More recently, I have been navigating how to express myself in a way that fits with our culture but also allows me to share my passion. I know other leaders and entrepreneurs have this in common. So when is the time to share your feelings?
When to Share
Most of the time, I go about my day with a pretty neutral outlook. I’m fairly even-keeled. Although it is rare, I have been brought to tears when I am filled with pride, share in my team’s excitement, or share in their frustration. As a leader, I worry that I am weakening my position by showing these emotions. But sharing feelings with my team has more do with trust than it has to do with character. When I do share, it is for a purpose, including the following:
- To motivate. Motivation is tricky. As a college athlete, I look back on all the coaches I have had over the years. They showed balance by motivating us using both fear and praise. I try to mimic this in day-to-day leadership. For example, we occasionally host competitions internally for various reasons: to get new ideas, encourage healthier behavior, boost sales, etc. This is when I bring out the praise and encouragement. Other times, I have to motivate by expressing disappointment. For example, our company always documents our processes and shares information internally. Just last week, I expressed frustration that documentation was not happening quickly enough. When I think that something should have already been accomplished that isn’t, I feel angry and let down. In my experience, your team will react faster when they feel you are disappointed rather than simply upset.
- To encourage a change. One of my managers is working a lot of hours, late into the evening and on the weekend. This is unnerving for several reasons. First, it sets the expectation with the client that everyone on the team is available all hours of the day and night, and that isn’t fair for other team members. Second, it puts my employee at risk of burnout. She is a valuable member of my team. I can’t force her not to work these crazy hours, but I can share my genuine concern for her and my desire to keep her as an employee.
- To show my loyalty. When a client tries to throw our team under the bus I don’t hesitate to share my feelings with the team and client. By doing so, they know I trust our team and have their backs, no matter what.
- To celebrate. As a culture, we frequently forget to celebrate our wins. Whether we get a new employee, achieve an internal goal or make a great sale, we need to remember to celebrate. Because our team is remote, they have to hear the joy in my tone. Kind words, a laugh and a friendly voice let the team know I’m pleased.
Becoming More Direct
I am more sensitive to the issue of emotions than I might be otherwise because my team is remote. They can’t see my face to tell whether I’m irritated, amused or just flat out mad. I deliberately control my voice to keep the team focused on our calls. When I am disappointed or experience another strong emotion, I stop talking. I go inward and become quiet so that I can think things through and ensure that I’m hearing what others are saying.
However, I recently realized that my silence was very hard to read. No one knew what I was thinking and this created some animosity. I’m now trying to become more vocal and direct. “This is very frustrating,” I’ve said in a meeting. “I’m disappointed this didn’t get done.” My positive emotions are hard to control too. When I get really excited or proud, I tend to become emotional and embarrass my team and myself. I like to use that word “proud” sparingly so they know I really mean it.
Owners are, after all, just as human as anyone else. So, from time to time, I have to remind myself that it’s OK for my staff to see me at my most vulnerable, whether I’m laughing, crying or angry. Emotions are a part of everyday life. Figuring out how to use them in your management style is a challenge just like anything else.