Emotionally Revealing

The Tears of a Leader –  are they a good thing?

Yesterday’s announcement by President Obama has, as expected, sparked further furious debate about gun control and civil liberties in the USA.   People are also talking about the moment where the emotion of discussing the shooting of young schoolchildren became almost too much to bear.

The sight of the most powerful man on earth with tears streaming down his face, struggling to contain his words and actions, may have moved some and perhaps made others uncomfortable.

I remember taking part in a Corporate HR Leadership Programme the culmination of which was a ‘Personal Mastery’ session.  This involved sharing our answers to 3 profound questions* about our leadership and “purpose” to our fellow participants.  First up was our HR Director ”Dave” and I remember him sitting in front of us being searingly honest about his own leadership and what was important to him.  Dave also became emotional when talking about his values and why he felt he was placed here. Not ‘out-of-control’ emotional but like Obama, Dave became tearful at one point and struggled to get his words out.

Others too became emotional/tearful during their mastery session that day and most agreed it was a powerful and valuable session. However, some discussion in the bar afterwards was around whether Dave “did himself any favours” by revealing those all too human emotions to us, his team.  This seemed to be centred on political/hierarchical concerns about Dave’s “position” rather than authenticity. It seems some people found it “uncomfortable”.

I think being Emotionally Revealing can be helpful to leaders, provided it’s authentic and for the right purpose.  Daniel Goleman’s EI model proposes a “Regulation” of our emotions but I do not take this to mean shutting down emotions. Surely revealing (in a controlled way) your true feelings are the key to authentic and trustworthy leadership?  Dave did this and in doing so allowed others to explore and share their true feelings about what was important to them. The President did this and showed that frankly, he’s had enough of it.

I don’t know if Obama will be successful in his executive order but I do know for sure it is important to him.

Important enough for him not to be afraid to reveal his true feelings about those dreadful events.

Important enough to do something about.


* these are the questions we answered.

Questions for leaders

  1. What is distinctive about your style of leadership?
  2. What is important to you and what do you value most?
  3. What will your legacy be?
Posted by John Drysdale
6th January 2016
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