[Life Back West] January 2009 – “Big Feelings”

Some people easily communicate emotions. I am not naturally one of them; a close friend told me that they knew when I got enthused about something when they saw one of my eyebrows move. It is the mischief of karma that I am blessed with a son who has a great range of feelings: joy has great heights, and compassion has strong expression, as well as sadness. He is as authentic as they come.

“Authentic leadership” in business has become more important for effective leadership and (HBR Adobe Acrobat pdf ) as the nature of our culture and work shifts from rock star CEO’s to “real people” who lead. Authentic leadership presumes as a basis that someone is genuine, and someone who is genuine is usually aware, and appropriately discloses their feelings.

While the culture of most organizations can be a little like driving in Boston – show no fear, and hold emotions in check – authenticity demands that you are able to communicate the human professional that is you, rather than the professional while omitting the human.

While executive coaching should never be confused or mixed with therapy, good coaching can help people get clear about their feelings and how best to communicate them. My experience from over 25 years coaching senior managers is that the best leaders are those who are mindful of their feelings and know what to do with them. It’s a leadership attribute that recognizes that it’s not just one’s IQ but also one’s EQ that drives leadership effectiveness .

Work with one of my favorite clients is illustrative: whenever she got angry or disappointed she tightened up, becoming clipped, terse, and tense. Holding stuff in made her a significantly less effective communicator and leader. Armed with 360 feedback and some workable options as alternatives, her changes were both simple and effective: Be aware of the feelings present, and communicate them as appropriate in words rather than holding them in. She moved from managing on “simmer” to expressing what was going on (e.g. – I’m disappointed that you didn’t follow the procedure – it caused the project to miss a key deadline.”) As a result, she was much more at ease, became a more powerful presence in her organization, and had a stronger positive impact on those around her.

My 6 year-old son can express his feelings and is increasingly able to talk about them. Both are skills that would help many leaders improve their effectiveness. Surprisingly enough, these skills can be learned and applied successfully at any age.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.