My work with organizations and their leaders have led me to conclude that not only does everything as John Maxwell said, ‘rises and falls with the leader’ but that leaders really face the most challenging task of all-managing their emotions and that of the people they lead. Those of you with families know just how challenging this can be with your own flesh and blood. Imagine the degree of challenge in managing the emotions of people who are only tied to you because they work for your corporation? Imagine the extra lengths a leader must go through if he or she wants to truly engage and develop their employees.
In a previous blog I mentioned the power of the emotional reality of groups and teams and how this is shaped by the leader. Of course, to know the ’emotional temperature’ of the group or team a leader must be brave enough to simply execute the test. This is where many leaders fail- not enough leaders are brave or confident enough to lean in to the discomfort this process brings.
This reminds me of a recent discussion by Pema Chodron, entitled ‘Awakening the warmth in our minds’. The essence of the discussion was for us to use warmth as a principle to connect with all ‘sentient beings’. She encouraged the listener to really notice the everyday things and people in their lives. Not from a place of judgement but from a place of really seeing- not with the eyes but through the eyes- these things and people. The result of taking this approach to seeing people and things is the strong sense of connection it creates for the observer. That really they are no different from you and vice versa. This evokes compassion and a sense of truly seeing oneself in the things and people with whom you connect.
For leaders to truly get a sense of their people’s emotional temperature they will need to practice what Pema Chodron is challenging us to do and this requires leaders to conduct a fearless inventory. From the organizational perspective this means bringing out into the open those hidden things within their department and organization that they are ashamed of and wish to keep hidden.
This can be a frightening experience, take for example a conversation I had with a senior manager in a large medical company. The organization is going through some rapid changes structurally such as how things will be done moving forward, to the very kinds of employees they now will hire. This means voluntary early retirement for many, some layoffs etc. The manager shared he continues to operate as business as usual. Refusing to seek any information that could confirm what he suspects his department will change fundamentally and in a way that will leave many of his direct reports without employment.
Pema’s approach in this situation would entail the manager conduct a fearless inventory by asking the questions he has of his own senior leaders- facing the reality of what’s guiding the direction the organization is heading. Filtering what he can share with his group and sharing accordingly. Why this approach? Ease the pain and trauma associated with what is likely to be interpreted as ‘all of a sudden’. The fall out of leaders failing to conduct a fearless inventory of the hidden norms that drive their organizations is leaders operating blindly and consequently leading blindly.
Below are some strategies and questions for how leaders may begin the process of conducting a fearless inventory of the emotional reality of their groups:
- Get the senior leaders to speak honestly about the realty of the current state.
- Ask powerful questions such as what is working? What is not working?
- Ask questions not just about strategies and tactics to grow the organization but also how the group or teams and the organization are really functioning
- What impact as senior leaders do we have on the emotional temperature of our groups and teams?
- Are we truly modeling the behaviour we expect of our groups and teams?
When the above questions and strategies are in place leaders will begin to gather data that show themes. Some themes will recur across the board and are clues for where the chain is either at its weakest or strongest.
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Here’s to loving how you live, work and play!