Emotions At Work

The subject of showing emotion comes up frequently in my coaching sessions with senior leaders. They often cite Barack Obama as a source of inspiration to them. Why? Because while Obama occupies full gravitas, dignity and integrity, he also shows his emotions. The more his eyes well up with tears the more he is perceived as a powerful leader and speaker!

In a recent radio interview with Mike Haines, speaking about the charity he created in memory of his brother, an aid worker, who was kidnapped and murdered by Isis, Haines openly wept, then composed himself, spoke eloquently again, and wept again throughout. It was extraordinarily moving to hear how he channelled his grief into a powerful project of love and reconciliation whilst also struggling with his composure. The most telling moment in his interview was when he said, “If I choke back my tears I would be speaking a lie.”

Throughout the final days of Brexit we witnessed many politicians welling up with emotion as they said their goodbyes to their colleagues.  Watch any number of inspirational Ted Talks or leadership speeches and you will witness the beauty and power of showing emotion while in the performance of a professional role.

In the work place, business, and organisational life, there are times when showing emotion is positively inspiring. In giving presentations, motivational talks to your team, pitching your vision as a leader, mourning the loss of a colleague or coping with a huge disappointment or failure – all are instances where demonstrating the intensity of your feelings, passion or pain can raise the humanity factor in the room and grant others ‘permission’ to own their feelings more courageously and authentically.

Of course there are a few situations where showing all your emotions or crying may not serve you or your audience well. Responding to feedback, in interviews or critical conversations about promotions or the next steps in your career might not be the best moments to break down. For a quick ‘composure reset’ stop, breathe and get grounded.   Really see where you are, really look at the other person or people in the room and get yourself into the now.

The more present you are the more connected and whole you will feel. It’s ok to touch a core of vulnerability for a moment, welling up, being emotional. It doesn’t mean you are in meltdown. It just means that you value yourself and can give the gift of compassion to yourself and to others. In the words of Walt Whitman “I am larger than I thought, I did not know I held so much goodness.”

Stop ‘obeying’ role models who believe vulnerability is off-limits in the boardroom or risk leaving your authentic self at the door. Be inspired by role models who show their humanity. Drop the corporate mask, allow yourself to express emotion rather than damping it down, share your vulnerability rather than blockading it, and harness your animated, passionate, energised self.

Featured in EDGE Journal on The Institute of Leadership & Management

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