Using the "F" Word as a Leader

Leading with FeelingsI’m going to talk about the “F” word today, that vulgar term that’s still considered taboo in most civilized circles. It amuses me how perfectly acceptable it is to season your language with it as long as you’re talking about sports or cars or your in-laws. But, it seems the more public the conversation the more inappropriate using the “F” word becomes. What is this distasteful word? Feelings.

Despite all the Emotional Intelligence surveys and sensitivity training we’ve suffered through for the last decade, there’s still an awkward absence of feelings in the corporate world. The unspoken belief that professionalism and personality are mutually exclusive is alive and well.

This belief is, of course, rubbish. Every professional I’ve ever met was a person – and had been their entire life. They had thoughts and emotions and opinions and quirks and fears and dreams. Those were the things that made them interesting, special, and yes, successful.

Feelings are important. No matter how much you try to ignore or avoid feelings, the fact is, you’re leading humans. Feelings affect performance and retention – which are both linked to your bottom line.

Some people are naturals at sensing what others are feeling. For others, it takes a lot of work. My advice? Don’t make it harder than it is. If you don’t know what someone is feeling, ask them. It’s easy. Just start with, “Jim, how do you feel about…” then insert the situation, idea or issue you’re discussing.

Listen closely though; most people won’t answer your question the first time. They’ll usually respond with, “I think…” Don’t let them get away with telling you what they think. Tell them you want to know how they feel. Feelings come in simple one word answers: Frustrated. Excited. Surprised. Confused. Afraid. Relieved.

Finally, set the example. Don’t back down from letting others know how you feel. Sharing feelings at work isn’t about holding hands and singing Kumbaya with your colleagues. It’s about bringing your whole self to work and infusing your endeavors with meaning and humanity. So go ahead, you have permission. Use the “F” word today at work.Leadership emotion

How do feelings help you do your job better?

6 thoughts on “Using the "F" Word as a Leader”

    1. Right on, Keith. Think about your favorite customers or your most trusted coworkers – don’t you have a personal connection with them, not just a “professional” one? Thanks for your comment.

  1. Hi Geoff, Funnily (another f word), read a post today that notes why women do not succeed or get paid as well as their male colleauges and it’s beccause we say “feel” and not “think” and thus are not taken seriously. Readers were advised to use “think” to be powerful women. As a psychologist obviously I think and feel that both are exceedingly important, but good to ask if this is a gender thing. Women, of course, are far less often considered leaders or placed in leadership roles and it’s a bit trickier for us. Love to know what you think or feel about all this. Enjoying your blog, glad to find you.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Annie; glad you’re enjoying the blog!

      You bring up a great point. I haven’t read the post you referenced, but I’d agree–if we’re talking about qualifying statements. For example, “I think we should take another look at the numbers” comes off more assertive than “I feel like we should take another look at the numbers.” But if you want to be taken seriously, drop the qualifier altogether: “We should take another look at the numbers.”

      Women don’t get their fair share of leadership positions and that frustrates me (not because they deserve a certain percentage, but because less qualified leaders sometimes get a job simply because they have a Y Chromosome). So the terrain is steeper for women, but ultimately I think it’s a confidence issue. The most successful women I know trust and share themselves–their thoughts and their feelings. And we’re all the better for it.

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