In some respects I will be happy to get out of the teenage years of parenting, but in other ways I will really miss them. There is a teenage boy and girl in my home and one pre-teen girl. Emotions can run rampant from laughing to crying to angry and yelling; all of that before they get in the car to go to school. Right now they seem to be led by emotions. Environments led by emotions can be a roller coaster ride to say the least. In truth, emotions make great servants, but terrible masters. Emotions are not vacant in the workplace — not at all. As leaders, it is our job to leverage the service of emotions in the environment, but not let them lead.
The greatest emotion that exists in our workplace and on our teams is fear. This emotions pops up in so many ways. Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear they will find out, fear of what they think, fear of loss, fear, fear, fear. There are certainly other emotions present in the workplace. Jealousy for one creeps in, but I think it has spent time baking in the fear oven before it turns into jealousy.
Depending on the organization, there could be great hope and love. These two exist at some level in every organization. This came up in a recent post where fundamentally people come together to help each other in a crisis. This is love and it exists in every organization — sometimes it doesn’t show very well, but it still there. How can we as leaders leverage all this emotion? How do we avoid letting this emotion lead our environment? How can we lead leveraging emotion?
Ever hear of the expression, “Happy wife happy life?” I can attest to this statement. I will say that my wife’s happiness is not my responsibility, but when she is upset about something, we all feel it in my home. That same goes for work. The first thing we need to acknowledge about emotion is that as leaders, what we feel as expressed by behavior will usually set the tone for the environment. Let’s not let our fear, or hope, or love, or whatever the emotion du jour is, set the tone for the environment. We can’t do this because those emotions range and will end up promoting lack of stability. Perhaps they range much less than in a teenager, but they range. Let the tone of your environment be set by behavior relative to core values far more than behavior relative to emotions. We can acknowledge emotions and try to understand where they are coming from, but let the environment reflect your behavior relative to something far more stable than a blowing wind. Let your environment reflect your behavior relative to the rock of your core values.
Once there is understanding of the leader’s emotions and their impact on the environment, the other part to leading emotions in the workplace is the emotion of the various individuals on the team. The organization I am working with is going through an alignment process as part of its long-term strategic plan. The company is aligning with other like companies at a higher level to take advantage of scale and leverage industry best practices. Confusing? Yes, to say the least. It is not a merger or acquisition, just an alignment. There exists a lot of fear and uncertainty in an environment like this. Fear at every level — leadership, managers, staff, even clients. How can leaders leverage this emotion in this circumstance and use it to propel the organization and not let it negatively impact the environment?
This may see old and tired, but the simple answer is communication. The root of almost all fear is uncertainty. Remove as much uncertainty from the environment and you can remove the fear. If fear raises its head, learn from it. Learn where uncertainty exists, and communicate to the best of your ability to remove it. This is how we can leverage emotion. We need to understand the root and how to pull that root out. If the root of fear is uncertainty, then remove uncertainty by making things certain through good old fashioned communication, you know, getting up in front of the team and talking to them about what is really going on.
As I lead my team through this alignment, I get in front of them every two weeks and talk about it. We call it a huddle meeting and it is core to our team’s effectiveness. This was not started as a result of the alignment, it was started several years ago out of our core values of transparency. We can leverage the existing huddle meeting to listen to fears and deal with uncertainty through communication. This can be done in person, but if your workforce is scattered, it can be done via video. If this huddle meeting is birthed after a major event that shakes the tree, it will be suspect. Fear will drive lack of trust. Start it before you need it so you have a trusted mechanism for communication.
Leveraging emotion in the workplace can be a game changer. As leaders, we must learn about emotions, but more importantly, learn about their roots. Once we know that, we can look past the behavior that accompanies some emotion and deal with the root. As my 14 year old daughter prepares for school, I try to hear her heart and not study her behavior, but it just might be that her behavior leads me to asking the right question to get to what is in her heart. This roller coaster has some more years I am afraid, but they will be worthwhile. We are trying to impact lives both at home and at work. Letting a foundation of core values instead of your emotions set the tone is a good beginning. Additionally, listen and be watchful for emotions on the team and work like crazy to discover the root. Put process of communication in place now so when you really need it, it is there.