By Kathy Caprino – Forbes
In my work as a career and leadership coach with mid- to senior-level leaders each year, I’ve seen that the vast majority of the “leadership” or “career” challenges that my clients are facing are actually not career-related or professional in nature at all. They are emotional and internal. These leaders reveal a myriad of struggles in how they are working, leading and managing, and most often, these challenges stem from a reluctance or inability to feel fully and deeply, and to allow themselves to experience true vulnerability. The result is that they’re failing to process their feelings in effective ways. And these unprocessed emotions lead people to make faulty decisions, burn essential bridges and lose needed supporters.
To learn more about how we all can lead with emotional courage, and muster more internal bravery, I was excited to catch up with Peter Bregman this week. Bregman is a bestselling author, trusted adviser to top CEOs and management teams, and the CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that helps senior leaders create accountability and inspire collective action on their organization’s most important work. He is the author of the bestselling book 18 Minutes, and his new book, Leading with Emotional Courage, is being released this month.
I interviewed Bregman on my podcast Finding Brave this week, and he offered an exciting dose of courage and empowerment through his practical strategies and suggestions.
Here’s what Bregman shares about emotional courage:
Kathy Caprino: What is emotional courage, and why is it important?
Peter Bregman: Emotional courage is the willingness to feel. And it’s the driving force behind anything important that we accomplish.
Here’s an example – think about a difficult conversation you want to have with someone but you haven’t followed through on. Now consider why you haven’t followed through. I’m betting you know what you want to say. And that you’re skilled enough to have the conversation. And I imagine you’ve had – or could have created – opportunities to have the conversation. So why haven’t you followed through?
That’s where emotional courage comes in. There’s something you don’t want to feel. Maybe it’s the possibility of conflict. Or the other person’s defensiveness. Or their anger. Or your own anger or defensiveness. I’m not sure what it is that you might have to feel – but the risk of feeling it stops you. It stops all of us. That’s why emotional courage is so important to following through on what we care most about.
If we are willing to feel everything, we can do anything.
Caprino: Emotions are so often taboo in the workplace. Are you saying that people should be “emotional” at work?
Bregman: I love the way you put that question. Yes, in a certain sense, I do think we should be “emotional” at work. But that doesn’t mean that we should express all our emotions. It doesn’t mean we should be drama kings and queens. What I mean is that we should be willing to feel all our emotions.
Here’s the truth: It doesn’t matter whether you want to be emotional – you simply are emotional. It’s impossible not to have hundreds of emotions pass through us in a regular workday. Try to spend three minutes during the day and not have an emotion. At any moment we may feel happy, frustrated, angry, jealous, wistful, sad, scared, excited, bored, inspired, and so much more. That’s what it means to be a human being. When we try to stuff those emotions down, that’s when we become unreliable, unpredictable. The emotions we don’t want to feel are the ones that get in our way because they leak out, often in passive aggressive, insidious ways.
So, yes, I am suggesting that we feel, watch, and pay attention to our emotions. But feeling angry and expressing our anger are two different things. Feel everything. And then be strategic and intentional about what you express and how you express it to achieve the outcomes you want.
Caprino: You describe three other critical elements for powerful leadership. Can you share a few sentences on each?
Bregman: Great leaders are confident in themselves, connected with others, and committed to a larger purpose – all at the same time.
I use the term “leadership” broadly. I’m not simply talking about people who are leaders in large organizations or people who lead teams. Anyone who wants to move forward in their lives, who wants to achieve something they care about, would benefit from developing their capability in these three elements (and, of course, the fourth: emotional courage).
To be confident in yourself does not mean to be arrogant. Confidence is about being grounded.. About knowing yourself and being willing to be different from others if that’s who you really are. Confident people don’t get thrown by criticism or negative feedback. When you’re confident, you can “not know” things and it doesn’t threaten your self concept. Confident people are curious and open and steady.
To be connected with others means that you are trusting and trustworthy. You can be relied on and you are willing to rely on others. You listen and truly care about the people around you. And others know it and would say that you care about them, even when they disagree with you. That’s an important skill.
To be committed to a larger purpose means there’s something you are working towards that’s bigger than you and the people with whom you are working. Something you care about that is not simply self -aggrandizing or pleasing to others – something that all of you can rally behind and work towards together. Your purpose is your focus; you must be willing to say no to distractions in order to achieve your purpose.
Here’s what important: great leaders are all three of these elements at the same time. Confidence in yourself without connecting with others means you’re self-involved and you’ll lose the loyalty and support of those around you. Connection with others without confidence in yourself means you will do anything to please others and that’s a recipe for burnout and powerlessness. Committing to a purpose without confidence in yourself and connection to others means you’ll lose yourself and everyone around you in the process.
And to be confident, connected and committed, simultaneously, requires tremendous emotional courage. Those four elements are the ingredients for outstanding leadership.
Caprino: Can you share a tip for developing confidence in ourselves?
Bregman: What’s interesting about developing confidence in yourself is that you need to start with some confidence in order to build more of it.
And here’s the good thing: no matter how much you feel like you lack confidence, there are some areas where you already have confidence. So your first step is to recognize where you already feel independent and strong. In what situations – with which people – do you feel grounded?
One way to recognize that place is to identify where you are comfortable being different than the people around you – perhaps a place where you are already okay standing out and being BIG. It may be something that seems insignificant to you – like eating differently than the people you’re with (maybe you’re kosher or vegetarian, or hate blue cheese – and you’re comfortable holding that line even when other people are making different choices). Think about those situations and feel what it feels like to stand in your certainty, in your willingness to be with people and be different from them. Feel that sense of self.
As you notice that place in your body, you can then begin to apply it to other areas of your life.
Caprino: How about connection with others?
Bregman: One of my favorite ways of connecting with others is by telling them how much I appreciate them. If you want to get started, try this: list three people – one personal, one work, and one more distant acquaintance (either personal or work). Identify one thing you appreciate about each of them and think of a specific example you can articulate. Then, out of the blue, let them know. You can do it in person, on the phone, in an email, or in a written letter. Don’t ask for anything in return and don’t do it as part of a larger conversation that might include other kinds of feedback. Just reach out to them, let them know you appreciate them, and explain why – then thank them.
Caprino: And what about commitment to purpose, and its importance?
Bregman: The first step in committing to purpose is having a clear sense of what you care most about. What is the most important outcome you want to achieve over the next year? That’s what I call the Big Arrow.
Your Big Arrow could be part of a grand lifelong strategy, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider what small number of things will make the biggest difference in moving forward on what you care most about? Once you know the Big Arrow, you can make smart choices about where to spend your time and, perhaps more importantly, where not to spend your time. Your Big Arrow is also critically important as guidance for those around you – those whom you want to inspire to drive the Big Arrow forward, and those from whom you want support.
Caprino: Since emotional courage underlies all these elements, how do people develop emotional courage? Where should people start?
Bregman: Do the things I mention above and more that I talk about in Leading with Emotional Courage, especially if they feel risky to you. Emotional courage is built when you take risks, which make you feel things. When that happens, go really slowly and feel everything you feel, and then act while you are feeling those things. Most people try to stop feeling scared, for example, before doing something scary. But that doesn’t build your emotional courage. Feeling scared is fine! It’s perfectly natural.
If you can act boldly while feeling scared, you’ll be unstoppable.