Are you feeling the pressure to step up and show leadership?

These are circumstances we could never have been prepared or trained for. The emotional load is huge. What I am seeing right now is leaders that are taking over responsibility for other people. They are feeling the pressure to have all of the answers. The government doesn’t even have the answers yet.

I saw people ‘panicking’ about connection as we moved into lockdown. Afraid of not being able to chat at the water cooler or grab a quick coffee in one of the meeting booths. The unconscious fear that being physically apart will damage relationships.  They were worried about what that might mean for team dynamics. How would it play out in terms of productivity and results? What would it mean for motivation and morale? Their response was to schedule as many virtual meetings as possible to ‘stay connected’. Within 3 weeks this has resulted in fatigue, demotivation, a feeling of disempowerment, and overwhelm. 

How do leaders lead in lockdown and beyond? 
I am helping leaders and their teams to refocus, regroup, improve performance, and rapidly adjust to change. I am working with leaders to build strong foundations and look after their people so that when we come out the other side of this, we are stronger than when we went in.  Not completely broken.

What leadership looks like now
Right now, leadership is like being given a box full of parts, no instructions, and not being told what it is you’re buildinLeading when we don’t know where we are going requires a higher level of emotional intelligence and resilience.  Nobody knows what’s next.

I have seen leaders that were ahead of the curve and decided to go ahead with team development online and to create a different conversation. To create a real connection. To put the operational agenda on hold for a short time and focus on their people. Some people have said they feel more connected than they think they would have done had they not been forced to be virtual. It’s ironic. But that is because they are focusing on the right type of connection and the important conversations. 

Being okay with not knowing  
We have no idea what the future looks like. We have no idea how we might or might not be doing business. So we have to make the best decisions that we can right now with the information that we have. We are going to get stuff wrong. That’s OK. We are human beings and that happens. We have to forgive others and forgive ourselves. We need to access self compassion. We haven’t done this before.

How can we do it better?
What we do know is that connection and trust within a team makes forgiveness easier. Now is not the time to go into ourselves and battle on. It is the time to reflect, reach out and connect with others. It’s a time to build or reconstruct the foundations for a high performing team so that as we start to adjust as the world around us changes we are in the best place to serve our communities once again.

I have recently delivered a number of  successful online workshops. I was surprised at how effective they were. I got over some of my own limiting beliefs about what is possible. Facilitating team effectiveness workshops is not like ‘training’ someone to learn a new skill. It’s not teaching. It’s about bringing people together and connecting on a deeper level. It’s helped me consider what leaders could be doing right now with their endless webex meetings.

People need permission to feel
Emotional literacy is something I have talked to teams and their leaders about for years. It is often used interchangeably with emotional intelligence. It is the term used to describe the ability to understand and express feelings. Emotional literacy involves having self-awareness and recognition of one’s own feelings and knowing how to manage them, such as the ability to stay calm when angered or to reassure oneself when in doubt.

“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.” – Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review 

How are you feeling? 
Marc A. Brackett is a research psychologist and the Founding Director of the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence and Professor in the Child Study Centre at Yale University. He has dedicated his life to emotional literacy.

“One of the great paradoxes of the human condition; we ask someone “How are you feeling?” over and over which would lead one to believe that we attach some importance to it yet we never expect or desire or provide an honest answer” – Marc Brackett, Permission To Feel

It’s a question that we ask all the time but do we really (as leaders) want to hear the answer? What we want to hear is “Good thanks!” or similar. We are not prepared or equipped to deal with a negative response.  The majority of the time it’s more of a greeting than a genuine enquiry. 

Brackett’s suggestion is that we don’t want to spend time dealing with people’s feelings.  We want people to say “Fine, OK, good” and then we want to move on. Move on to the “busyness” and task in hand. People don’t have time for it which means we create a culture where it doesn’t feel safe to say how we are really feeling.  And even if it did feel safe, how many people are really able to articulate how they are really feeling? Especially now. 

Be More Uncle Marvin
Uncle Marvin was a significant person in Mark’s life. Uncle Marvin was someone in his life that encouraged and allowed him to express his feelings with no judgement. He listened. He didn’t recoil or fall apart when Mark disclosed the horrific abuse he was experiencing. He didn’t reject him and he didn’t try to fix him. He was open, curious and a great listener. Uncle Marvin also didn’t tell him what to do, he almost acted as his coach and this gave him hope. 

Who is YOUR Uncle Marvin? Who is supporting you as a leader to talk about how you are feeling about everything that is going on? There are layers upon layers of change. We are all adjusting. We are all being triggered and facing feelings that are difficult to escape from without the usual distractions.

In a recent episode of the “Unlocking Us with Brene Brown” podcast, Brackett talks about emotions being a signal to approach or avoid. Relationships will be impacted by your ability to read these signals and awareness of yours and others’ emotions. I normally use the metaphor of an orange. If you squeeze one, what comes out? So, in the current climate we are all being squeezed in one way or another and so whatever we are feeling will be leaking out. What does this mean for your leadership and team dynamics?  How we feel on the inside sends out messages.

The “RULER” method 
Brackett defines feelings as “a core experience, but the emotion…is more granular, more specific.” Feeling is a core experience and emotion is a granular thing. We, and leaders in particular, need to get better at the language of emotion to help ourselves and others thrive.  We need to build our emotional vocabulary and this requires some self inquiry. Just as you can be the person that facilitates this inquiry with your team, it can also be critical that you have someone hold the space for you to do the same.

Our emotional well being is inextricably linked to our cognitive function so if you think ‘getting emotional’ is pink and fluffy then think again. And by the way, it’s not about getting emotional, it is about feeling and then being able to label and name it. Most of our decisions are based on how we feel. So enhancing your awareness about your feelings means you can make more conscious decisions.

Ruler method – Recognition, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, Regulation Brackett’s research shows that our emotional states (anxiety and negative feelings) have a direct correlation to culture and climate of a community.  There is a direct link between our emotional, mental and physical health, sleep issues and our BMI! Our emotion systems are all linked together. This is when we notice that one person is anxious, suddenly the whole team is anxious. Emotions are infectious.  What does this mean for team dynamics and team performance?

  • Emotions affect our ability to pay attention
  • Emotions affect our decision making
  • Emotions affect our relationships
  • Emotions impact our physical and mental health
  • Emotions affect our performance and creativity

A client recently told me that 80% of her time right now was spent with her people, albeit virtually. She is focusing her time attending to her team. If we deal with fears and feelings now then we’ll spend more time in the future dealing with problem behaviours.

Top Tips for creating connection and cohesiveness in your team 

  • Be more Uncle Marvin – and find your own, Be curious, hold the space and withhold judgement. Then find someone who can do the same for you. 
  • Foster a culture of emotional literacy by role modelling it yourself
  • Name it to tame it – Once you are able to articulate what you are feeling it loses its power over you. If you can define something then you are more likely to be able to overcome it. 
  • Vulnerability based trust builds connection – This is critical to becoming a high performing team. Create opportunities for you and your team to engage in these kinds of conversations. 
  • Slow down – You need to slow down, take a few deep breaths and check in with your own feelings. If you don’t it will be difficult to check in with others in a way that is authentic.  And not just the obligatory “Hey, how are you?”

Brene Brown calls this “courageous leadership”.  Are you attending to your own emotions? It’s vital to get into the messy conversations with the people that we lead and serve but who is attending to yours? It’s easy to focus on others and in the process avoid our own stuff. This doesn’t make for an emotionally intelligent leader. We can run unconscious beliefs that because we are a leader we SHOULD be fine. But THIS is something that no one has experienced before. A global pandemic is full of the unknown and the destruction it is creating is multi-faceted. As the crew on a plane will always tell you – put your own mask on first. Face into your own fears and feelings.

Do you need someone to hold the space so you can put your own mask on? Get in touch if you’d like to know how I can support you at

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