There have been a few times in my career where my emotions were so raw that the workday felt like a near-impossible proposition:
- Coming back from my brother’s funeral to meet my manager in my territory because he wanted to evaluate my selling skills (this was pre-Lead Star).
- Being a sleep-deprived, stressed-out, post-partum new mom and business owner on a sales call that I desperately needed to close because my career – and those credit card bills stacked in a pile – depended on it.
- Receiving a text from my husband confirming our marriage was ending in divorce … and then turning around immediately to lead a virtual client event.
In all situations, I felt like I had no choice but to commit to my professional responsibilities and power through. And power through I did … only to collapse into a messy ball of hot tears and snot seconds after I passed through the experience.
I’ve since learned that this cycle of power-through, collapse, isn’t healthy. The extreme pendulum swing to the other side of stopping everything to grieve isn’t always a possibility either. Besides, you can’t really plan for grief. You can’t put it on your calendar to deal with it on Tuesday afternoon because that’s just not how it works.
So, what’s a leader to do when we’re overcome with our emotions because, let’s face it, a lot of personally challenging, and often tragic, situations are coming at us much faster than ever before due to our pandemic experience.
“Suck it up, buttercup,” isn’t the answer anymore. When we deny the fact that we’re human, and ignore our real emotions, we do long-term damage to ourselves by muting out the qualities that allow us to be leaders – those qualities that lead to connection, engagement, and passion in our whole lives.
Here are a few thoughts I have on how to promote a healthy emotional state, which – in turn – can help support a healthy emotional culture for those around you:
- Stop glorifying and rewarding “suck it up,” such as “Gina’s mom just passed away and – look! She’s here at work today.” This shouldn’t be a standard in any work environment.
- Be a real human … not a secret one. You know, stop pretending that you don’t have emotions and aren’t impacted by what’s going on in the world all around us. If you’ve got a pulse, you care. It’s okay to care and express that you do, as well as state: “I’m here, but I’m going through something right now” or “I need a day or two to disconnect.”
- Recognize that how you handle stress isn’t the best and only way. Let’s face it, you might be a “power through” kind of person. Recognize that might not be the healthiest approach to your emotions, so it makes sense that it’s not fair to push that on other people who are grieving. Let people express their emotions in a way that makes the most sense to them on their healing journey.
- Be open to new ways of coping. In the spirit of complete disclosure, this is where I’m focused. Rather than stuffing my emotions into a sack until it’s about to burst, I’m affording myself the opportunity to be okay with not being okay by respecting my emotions as they happen.
Keeping all this in mind, I want to conclude that many of us are a little fearful of embracing our emotions because we see a younger generation of workers entering our environments much more in-touch with their emotions. This leads to friction, judgment, and some labeling – they’re soft, less resilient, less committed. Here’s my guidance: rather than be quick to chastise them, be open and curious. Maybe we can all learn something about their approach to work and work/life integration. And maybe, just maybe, we can see how their emotions fuel passion and purpose in our environments, something we all know everyone desperately needs.
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