Feelings are important in leading

by | May 8, 2020 | CEO/Executive Directors | 0 comments

We’re leading in an amazing challenging time. (I almost said “unprecedented” but I know I’m not the only person getting tired of that word!)

In today’s Post Reports, contained a helpful reminder for leaders. In talking about the pandemics impact on personal finances, Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary said:

“It’s ridiculous to tell people, ‘Don’t be fearful.’…I’m not going to tell you, ‘Don’t be scared.’ I’m not even going to tell you, ‘Don’t Panic.’ But don’t act on that panic. Feel what you need to feel…but don’t act on that.”

While this applies to finances, it also applies to leadership. Leaders at all levels in organizations are being asked to create plans, make projections, to predict the future. To provide assurance in a very fluid time filled with conflicting messages. At the time of this writing, states are looking to “open up” again. But scientists like Dr. Ashish Jah at the Harvard Global Institute are warning that loosening restrictions could necessitate another full stoppage of the economy in June or July.

What is a leader to do?

Feelings as data, not decisions

Leaders need to avoid confusing emotions with facts. Both are needed in decision making. But too often, as humans, we interpret feelings as conclusions to our deliberative processes rather than just a part of the process.

In a recent podcast interview, Harvard Medical School psychologist Dr. Susan David encouraged leaders to view emotions as data, not decisions. I love how that doesn’t discount feelings, saying they’re unimportant. Feelings are important. They can be helpful in informing our decisions.

As you’re leading your team, your organization, or even your family through this, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the feelings. You used to be able to get alone and physically remove yourself from your team. Since it’s much harder to get to a physical place that is safe, you’ll likely need to find a friend, colleague, or coach to safely express these emotions with.

But don’t confuse them with actual decisions. Don’t reactively act on your feelings.

A common mistake during this pandemic

A common mistake I’m seeing leaders making is translating the feeling of overwhelm by the unemployment numbers into a decision to not sell or fundraise. Feeling overwhelmed is completely understandable. This pandemic is, ok I’ll say it, unprecedented.

But the decision to “hold off for now” is often not right for organizations.

When some leaders were saying, “Now isn’t the time to fundraise,” others were seeing their revenue go through the roof. I just got off the phone with a nonprofit leader who said her fundraising last month was four times more than the same month last year.

Four times.

I bet she’s glad she asked! And I know her donors are glad she asked. Giving is something they can do, an action they can take to stand against their own feeling of overwhelm. This leader is feeling the feels. But she’s also listening to others and only using the emotions to inform her decisions. Not to make her decisions for her.

This isn’t just a philanthropy thing. All over the world, people who are able to are still buying things. If they’re asked, they may choose to buy your product or service.

But if they’re not asked, it’s almost guaranteed they won’t.

Let emotions expand your empathy, not dictate your actions

Most leaders find it hard to allow themselves to feel emotions. In reality, the emotions are there anyway, whether leaders admit them or not. But it’s even more important now to feel them. Notice the overwhelm, the panic, the anxiety. If you can, picture observing it like you’d examine a rock. Hold it up, look at it. Appreciate the emotion’s complexity. And ask yourself how this can help you make better decisions.

Letting emotions inform your decisions will expand your empathy. It will help you be more human while making your sales calls, follow ups, and performance reviews. But please, keep making those calls, follow ups, and reviews. People need you. People need strong, competent leaders now more than ever.

You can’t predict what will happen in three months. But you can direct what should happen today. And this week. So start there.


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