Have you ever asked your peers to be honest with you about your blind spots or areas of improvement?
It’s enlightening and challenging to say the least.
A while ago I compiled an inventory of my strengths and weaknesses by surveying my closest friends. I'll never forget one response from someone whose opinion I value deeply:
You're too emotional. You'd be far more effective if you didn't let your emotions control your ability to perform. You have to find a way to keep your feelings in check.
At the time I received this message I was also getting similar feedback in the workplace. It was becoming more evident that my default setting to work and lead from an emotional place was viewed by others as my achilles heel.
Though I was grateful for such candor I couldn't help but feel defective. And maybe worse - perhaps this meant I had no chance of rising to the level of personal and professional influence I desired. Simply because of my emotional programming.
So I set out to make sense of who I was as a young professional with big feelings. But I didn't discover much. If you look around for content on how to develop and lead as a highly emotional person you'll mostly find:
Plenty of personality tests to assist in categorizing one’s emotional status
Interviews with employers which provide objective points of view on what makes for a balanced, attractive candidate - along with tips to help an emotional person become more hirable
How to be more empathetic and lead from one's emotional side - geared toward those who have a hard time doing so, or forget the importance of compassion and belonging
Fantastic work on emotional intelligence, though it generally focuses more on recognizing, managing, and adapting - not owning one’s emotions from a place of strength
Work on resilience that is more about adapting or pushing through and less about recovering the gifts with which one is born
Bottom line - to me it appeared most folks contended that emotions were either a thing to manage within oneself or recognize in others. What seemed to be missed was all the powerful ways one's emotional insight might allow them to develop into a different kind of leader.
An emotional leader.
As I reflected on this I scribbled down a few thoughts in an attempt to define what an emotional leader might be - like these:
The emotional leader is someone who is keenly aware of the feelings-based approach they bring to their work. They also desire to grow and improve and lead without jettisoning their greatest gifts - of which, these two rank highest: 1) They possess a highly developed emotional seismograph, allowing them to deeply understand their environment, and 2) an unusual ability to connect with the hearts of others and speak to the vision they have for themselves.
Yes! This felt better. This felt empowering. This felt truer than the advice I had received about getting my emotions under control. This put all my feelings to use!
So what next?
Well, at this point I knew two things for certain: I didn't want to be so controlled by my emotions that I hindered myself, others, or organizations from growing and improving. I also didn't want to lose my unique perspective on work and the world - or water down my emotional seasoning simply because it made others uncomfortable.
There must be a third way, I thought. The path that emerged had nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of others, and nothing to do with the faulty nature of my emotional disposition.
It had to do with my beliefs.
I needed to believe something different about who I was. I needed to completely trust that I was not made with spare parts. I had to learn to see my inclinations were given to me not as a burden, but as a boon.
This inspired the creation of a set of core beliefs - this manifesto - about what it means to be one who feels deeply and is also capable of great influence over their own lives and in the lives of others.
This is not a manifesto demanding others be more aware and accommodating of us who live all over the emotional spectrum. It will also in no way guide you to apologize for who you are. It is a third way toward self-acceptance and growth. As with all meaningful personal development the first work begins inside ourselves and remains there for the most part. The good news for us is this - we have spent our lives and leadership roles plumbing the internal depths of human emotions. Thus, we have what it takes to grow and flourish in a way unique to our gifting.
These core beliefs do not guide us to modify who we are or edit ourselves to be more palatable to those we lead or with whom we engage. This is about seeing our strengths - our whole selves, especially our emotions - and recommitting to the great tasks for which we were created: Casting visions, telling stories, drawing inferences, sense-making, seeing things invisible to others, divining meaning from all experiences, inspiring a body of people, creating a common language, and showing others parts of themselves they previously could not access -
until they met you.
I see my emotions as strengths, not something for which I should feel shame.
My ability to feel deeply enables me to care deeply.
I believe emotions are perhaps the most powerful force on earth.
I believe emotions are body wisdom.
I believe my emotions are my guidance system.
I believe in listening to my emotions. They are usually a call to action. The more I try to resist emotions, the louder they will become.
I believe emotional states can be created consciously.
I believe I alone am in control of my emotions.
Achieving excellence in any dimension of life requires high emotional intelligence
I believe my emotions allow me to be a more creative person.
I'm not encumbered because of the emotions I feel - I'm equipped. My experience with emotions across the spectrum enables me to meet others where they are and show people places inside themselves they never knew.
I can see magic in the world and create moments of wonder and awe for others.
I help others find meaning in their work. Purpose can be found in nearly anything if we're willing to look for it together.
I can put words to the ways others feel and articulate their visions, desires, concerns, and positions in a language they never had for themselves, but always felt deep down.
I recognize the power of emotions and use mine in healthy ways, not impulsive ways.
When I interact with another, I give them my whole self and all of my attention because I know how important the gift of acknowledgement can be.
I name the potential and good qualities I see in others because I know sometimes the best in us must be called out before we can see it.
My emotional insight allows me to divine the spirit of a particular group of people and meet them where they need to be met.
I honor any audience or group with whom I have the privilege of working because I treat them as a living organism and help them get what they need, not what I think they should have.
I have healthy relationships with a few close friends who will be honest with me and point out my blind spots in a loving way when I veer off track.
I've put in the necessary work and self-reflection to recognize my negative tendencies so I can get out ahead of unhealthy states, as well as the positive behaviors, habits, and mindsets that keep me on track. This way I can effectively pursue the best state for my current circumstances.
I don't use emotions as a weapon.
I don't use my insight into the emotional lives of others to manipulate them.
I don't take others where they are not yet ready to go. Not everyone desires the world I desire. Not everyone wants the things I want.
I recognize sometimes it is healthier and more effective for me to let my emotions rest and choose to take decisive action.
I know I am unhealthy when I let the emotions and opinions of others change the way I view and value myself.
A healthy emotional leader leads from a healthy emotional state - which means I must create healthy habits, boundaries, space, and relationships that replenish me and keep me whole.
I recognize the potential influence I have on others because of the emotional connection I'm able to create. I am intentional and careful about the boundaries or expectations I establish with those whom I interact.
Sometimes the emotions I feel in a moment aren't what really matter. Sometimes the truth matters more.
I also respect that sometimes for others, their current emotions might seem like the truth - and I have compassion on myself when this is the case for me.
I recognize I have the ability to influence the cultural temperature of a room - and I treat that gift with respect.
Just because I feel more than others doesn't mean I'm more effective than others. I'm still responsible for honing skills, increasing knowledge, and making meaningful contributions.
I strive to remember that taking offense takes time. It is rarely worth it.
I remember that I am the only one who can make me feel special, valued and worthy - I cannot depend on others to do that work or burden them with that responsibility.
Though I've created an identity around taking life seriously, there is a paradoxical power that comes with the decision to decrease the seriousness with which I perceive events in my life.
I recognize my extreme negative emotions are often pointing me to a truth inside myself I've yet to uncover.
Just because I can understand another's emotional struggles doesn't mean I can fix them or change them.
I am not my emotions, I am me. Though my feelings are often an ally, sometimes they are not - and I must remember where my identity really comes from.
I am not discouraged by those who take pride in being emotionally unavailable and dismiss me as woo-woo, fluffy, temperamental, a basket case, an emotional mess, or whatever pejorative term they conjure up.
It's OK for me to wait until I feel ready. It's also important to remember I'm more ready than I think I am.