Emotion and Management – How Much is Too Much?
Last week I posted an article about team building in which I said that leaders should limit their emotional volatility. I was recently asked if I meant that managers should avoid showing emotion entirely, and of course I didn’t mean that at all. Caring about your work and expressing passion for your job and for your team is a great thing, however misplaced emotional volatility degrades trust. Take these two examples:
Bad Use of Emotions
You’re having a bad day – your car breaks down on the way to work, you get called into a meeting with your boss and told that you need to step it up, and then you spill your coffee on your best shirt. Later that morning in a meeting a member of your team challenges you on an assumption and you fly off the handle and rant for 20 minutes about right you are and how wrong he is. Everyone in the room knows that if this subject had come up on a different day when you were not feeling stressed, your response would have been different. A key skill for a manager is the ability to compartmentalize emotions and respond correctly to the issue at hand without bringing in the baggage of the rest of the day.
Good Use of Emotions
You get an email that a key vendor is going to be unable to meet a deadline they agreed to in their contract. If they are late meeting this deadline your team will have to pull 14 hour days at the last minute to get the project done by the client’s deadline. You call up the vendor, escalate the issue to the highest level of account management and make a passionate request that they meet the original deadline or risk losing your business. In this scenario it’s completely appropriate for you to be heated and to express anger/frustration/outrage that the vendor is failing in their responsibilities. It is beneficial for your team members to see that you are willing to advocate hard for the team as a whole and not simply accept the situation and force them to work overtime to get the job done.
Managers can and should express emotions in the workplace – being human and relate-able is a good thing most of the time. There are gray areas to this type of emotional involvement, though, and it can be a tricky balance. For example if a team member is going through a tough time personally, you might relate to that and be willing to cut them some slack while they work through the issue. However if you cross the line into favoring that person and allowing them to submit substandard work or take extra time off because of their personal situation, you risk alienating the rest of the team.
What it comes down to is control. Consciously using your passion as a tool to be more effective is a great thing, but if you are allowing your emotions to take control as you respond to situations in the workplace, your volatility may be damaging your relationship with your team.
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