Emotions are OK, Fear-Based Leadership is Not
Note: This post was inspired by the Invisibilia podcast “The New Norm.” A group of manly oil rig workers tap into their collective vulnerability and accidents and performance go through the roof.
There is an archetype of a business leader — mentally indefatigable, fear-instilling, knows all the answers, and emotionally detached. The leader may humblebrag about how little they sleep, their frequent flier status, and how little they see their family. This leader governs from a place of fear, expects perfection, doesn’t believe in intangibles (nor abundance).
Not only is this a false (and dangerous narrative) — I believe it’s flawed. Maybe at the outset of the Industrial Revolution it made sense to separate the employee from their emotions — but in today’s dynamic, service-oriented economy, doing so significantly harms the potential of teams, and ultimately the business.
Be your Best Self
Presumably, companies want their employees to Be Their Best Selves — or to use corporate-speak, bring their A-Game. (I think that companies have an obligation to empower and enable their employees to be their Best Selves, but let’s table that for a separate post.)
But the Best Self is different than the “perfect” self, the latter doesn’t exist. Furthermore, the Best Self is only possible if the company culture creates the space — a safe space — for Authentic Vulnerability. Hence the problematic nature of the Fear-based and Emotionally detached Leader.
I can already see the pushback — crying, safe spaces, emotions — won’t a company “lose their edge?” How will they compete and crush the competition if they’re perceived as a bunch of sensitive wusses?
Life is Suffering (or Complicated)…
… is the first noble truth of Buddhism. In this context (and translation), it can mean a lot of things — complicated, difficult, stressful, unsatisfying. Both the business leaders and the employees are living these struggles, every single day.
Thinking that this Suffering felt by employees can be compartmentalized is as flawed as believing that Unicorns (the animals ?) exist. It’s even more delusional to think that Fear-based leadership can keep this suffering in check.
But let’s play it forward. You are expected to have all the answers (yet we know no one does). Furthermore, it’s emotionally exhausting to project any inauthentic persona, let alone this “hyper-masculine mask.” And to top it off, this leader scares the shit out of you.
This emotional exhaustion (and anxiety-led cortisol increase) stifles creativity and clarity; the fear prevents the nourishment of new ideas and challenging the leader; and (most scarily) encourages covering up mistakes.
The lack of trust discourages collaboration, constricts the serendipity of ideas and people, and prevents the shared sense of purpose.
I know what you’re thinking — isn’t some amount of fear required to keep people on their toes and prevent us from being soft? I think that accountability and direct feedback (Radical Candor via Candor, Inc, in particular) always trump management by fear.
I’d take the opposite argument even further. If we spend roughly 40% of our waking hours at work (probably significantly more, if you count “being connected”) shouldn’t leaders do everything in their power to enable their employees to be their best selves? Leadership emanating from a place of Love unlocks the exponential growth of the Abundance mindset. The intangibles — Purpose, creativity, trust, passion, serendipity, and teamwork all experience hockey stick growth.
And most importantly, isn’t embracing our common humanity the perfect fuel to create amazing things on this beautiful planet?
Thanks for reading,
Khe Hy is the creator of Rad Reads a publication dedicated to Being your Best Authentic Self. Knowing Thy’ Self is frequently covered in the Rad Reads Newsletter, delivered each Saturday AM. Subscribe Here!