The gift of leading from the top of an organization is perspective. As President of The Clearing, I am granted access to a material amount of information, which is often presented in conjunction with other leaders’ insight. This enables me, and other senior leaders like me, to combine information with insight and the context essential to drive certain behaviors up and other behaviors down, all depending on the gap between the current state and the collective organizational goals.
However, I have noticed that the inherent value of this perspective can begin to falter as a company or organization scales. As an organization grows, the degrees of familiarity with the senior leader decrease. Formality replaces casual exchanges and opportunities for authentic interaction can become nearly non-existent. The small moments available for casual information sharing become hard to find. Kitchen-table style conversations are replaced with formal niceties and meetings that feel like attendees are dining at an unusually long table set for an occasion rather than genuine engagement.
As meaning and communication are forced into a smaller and smaller pipe or field, emotion often gets left behind. It is at this point that I have found a leader’s ability to self-manage becomes an asset, and a true sign of professionalism and experience as an executive.
This is because employees watch their leaders. Observing the pace of a leader’s walk, hand gestures, facial expression and of course, the words that come out of their mouth is second nature. With this careful focus comes specific attention being drawn to emotion.
Embodying a steady and even disposition becomes more and more important to a leader’s communication strategy and power in sending the right signals at the right time into the organizational and very human system she or he leads. When the settings where I interact with my teammates are less frequent and more staged, the ability to do this well feels all the more important.
Still, there are moments when my emotion shows up. My frustration with the process of finding the right solution in a given moment can be confused with anger, and can sometimes leave my team members concerned about my overall well-being. I’m aware that there are gender implications around how women express anger, but that is a topic for another time. While we work through old and new rules around gender, I want to offer a small tool for widening the pipe and field through which leaders–especially female leaders–can engage.
It’s as simple as this:
When I am in a situation where I need to express myself and am mindful that even my whispers can land as shouts, I get curious. I direct that curiosity internally, as I wonder about what’s triggering me in the moment, and externally, as I inquire into my teammates’ intuition. Dr. Marilee Adams’ work was a source of inspiration for this practice.
Instead of getting frustrated or angry, I ask,
“What types of responses did you anticipate receiving based on the data you are presenting here today?”
“What might surprise or concern stakeholders about the conclusions you’ve drawn?”
Channel the frustration, create conditions for authentic exchange, and grow intuition–all by asking a simple question. The next time you feel yourself growing frustrated, give it a try, and let me know how it goes.