Reflect for a moment on your career thus far and identify your favourite line manager; that manager who you respected most and had the best relationship with. Was it the manager who was always right, who never showed weakness, who was perfect in every possible way?
Most likely the answer to that question is “no”. As humans we relate best to other, real humans. Natural egocentricity makes it hard for us to relate to someone who we perceive as perfect, because reaching that same perfection is an unattainable goal, and nobody wants to be left feeling like a lesser person. Your favourite line manager is, more likely, the one who was honest about their weaknesses; who showed some real emotion; who used both your and their mistakes as learning opportunities. It is the manager who was secure enough with themself to say “I don’t know, but I will find out”. Authenticity builds connection, and connection is at the heart of trust.
While showing your vulnerability can create connection and trust, we must keep in mind that people look to leaders to be calm and deliberate in their decisions and actions, especially in times of crisis. Leaders who react to crisis in highly emotional ways can add to people’s stress and anxiety. However, the answer is not in hiding your feelings from others; that negates the earlier point about authenticity. The answer lies in slowing down, taking stock of your anxiety and stress and understanding what is causing an emotional reaction. Identify tools to help you truly manage your emotions so that you can provide leadership that is authentically calm and in control. And when you make a mistake, admit it, talk about it and use it as a learning opportunity that will give others the psychological safety to also be candid about their mistakes and emotions.
Click here to learn how to manage your thoughts to gain control and become more effective.
Susan David, an award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist, talks about how effective leaders manage their negative thoughts and feelings.