By Maria Pressentin
Will you allow emotions at workplace?
…“It’s just business, not personal!” – There you go, she said it again, and your boss expects you to accept her decision on a shift that will impact you, or your role, not paying attention to how you feel about what she asked you to do, while expecting you to be OK with it… but, are you?
Too often this cliché sentence does more damage than good; let us discern the reasons behind it by splitting them into the perspectives of: intention, behavior, impact, and how it may have an affect on others’ perception of your leadership style as a non-caring leader. If you are responsible for a team of people, as well as for getting results through others, then read on…
Your boss may have had good intentions when saying “It’s just business, not personal!”, and chances are, she had to make a business decision to move the project or goals forward that unfortunately would impact you or even your team and division. Yet, this sentence tends to over simplify the matter because humans are emotional and social beings, thus, keeping the emotions out of business, projects, interactions with others and organizations is just not realistic.
Scott Blanchard once said “When you are a leader, you become the topic of dinner conversations” – and since, generally, people only talk about leaders at dinner mostly when they aren’t liked, it would be important to stay away from being the topic of any team members’ dinner conversations.
“It’s just business, not personal!” clearly creates a dinner conversation topic simply because the leader’s intention was not translated into a behavior that would value the team member, rather, creating a perception of a leader that does not care for the well-being, anxieties and frustrations expressed, thus, generating room for potential mistrust and misalignment between both parties.
Deception No. 1 – Intentions can be perceived by others, easily.
The sentence – “It’s just business, not personal!” – sets a non-inviting tone for emotions, points of view, further exploratory conversations and clarifying questions from the team member, resulting in potential team member’s appraisal of the leader to be – “my boss doesn’t care about my opinion, doesn’t listen, and I must do it her way or the high way”, thus, feeling imposed to carry on as his boss requires. Susan Fowler (2014), in her book - WHY MOTIVATING PEOPLE DOESN’T WORK AND WHAT DOES - talks about the motivation dilemma, which is really helpful to understand what contributes to people’s motivations and what happens when we do not honor and value how others feel. When the leader shows up with this sentence as a repetitive behavior and, or, in combination with other behaviors that supplement the lack of care and support, over time, the team member’s intentions may be less about focusing on becoming a high performer and innovator in problem solving but rather being more complacent employee, perhaps even less engaged, as he now may perceive that the leader requires him to obey without further clarifications and alignment. “It’s just business, not personal!” blocks further conversations, full stop! Now, how motivating can it still be, if this is a permanent behavior or leadership style… would you want to be led by her?
As the team member’s motivation to be led by this leader decreases over time, his intentions to stay may also drop and instead of focusing in achieving organizational results, he may just focus on serving personal interests, such as: having more breaks, not caring much about performing or even having lunch with recruiters for his next move.
Deception No.2 – It’s OK to block emotions at work.
Let’s examine from the perspective of the team member on “It’s just business, not personal!”
People, nowadays, tend to work over 8 hours a day, in our global business environment, many are always: On! Crunched up with their phones and computers, working in a matrix constellation, connected to most regions and time zones in the World 24/7. Which means, most of us in business are working easily 12-15 hours a day. So, we are constantly working, or at least, thinking about work. It’s a fact!
In reality, people feel defined by their roles, jobs, careers and companies they work in. When you are introduced to someone, one of the first questions is “What do you do?” the answer almost never begins with “I do…” rather “I am the Manager/Director/VP of …at …” We obviously feel qualified, proud, resonant with what we do and our jobs describe us, in other words, people are inclined to identify themselves with their jobs. Consequently, anything we do and believe in, at work, is motivated by our personal inner-drive to succeed in our roles and within the organization. This is emotional, because we are dealing with what motivates us and it may be demonstrated by a range of feelings such as: passion, anxiety, frustration, happiness, enthusiasm, etc. When explored, can be further understood by our values and purpose that describe why we do what we do. Therefore, emotions can be objectified, when explored, through the meaning of one’s values and purpose.
“It’s just business, not personal!” on the receiving end, impacts the team member negatively because it devalues the effort or contribution of the person, let alone it underplays the feelings that have surfaced or about to surface. People thrive and show up with a sense of vitality and well-being when they feel they have autonomy with choices, good relationships with their leaders and workplace colleagues and partners, and competent on the work they do, which are the basic three psychological needs of any human being (Fowler, 2014).
Deception No.3 – Emotions cannot be objectified.
This leader needs to patch up the relationship with the team member in a timely manner by simply admitting her lapse with a sincere apology, explain her intention and reason behind her comment, listen to the team member’s views attentively by acknowledging his feelings, thoughts and concerns around the matter, and show that she cares by collaborating in future conversations. Best when the leader also gives permission to the team member to call on her when she repeats “It’s just business, not personal!”
In leadership, showing that you care can come through a variety of ways, yet, the everyday interaction is what counts. As team members, we need to manage up, it’s a lonely position to be a leader if feedback is not given to the top, because we are too afraid to call on our bosses bad behaviors.
On the flip side, as we are also leaders and influence others as managers, catching ourselves slipping and having the guts to take immediate action to salvage our relationship with the team members, not only shows our courage in leading by example, most importantly, our vulnerability is the seed for building trust, respect and show of care. Suggesting to our team members to give us periodic feedback is the best mirror a leader can have, so take it as a gift for your personal and professional development.
It is important to ask yourself: “Am I a self-serving leader or a servant leader?” Self-serving leaders care for themselves, and themselves only! Shoving the dust under the carpet will only accumulate over time and falter. A servant leader that intends to serve the team members admits that she was wrong in a timely fashion, apologizes and takes immediate action to partner for performance, because serving is about helping others succeed.
Leaders are responsible for people’s development, whatever you do, say and how you show up in the workplace ends up as behaviors learned and passed onto your team members, since humans learn by copying, upon frequent interactions. One day, when your team members reach your hierarchy and lead other teams, would you rather leave a legacy that they learned and copied from their best or worst leader? The choice is yours!
Food for Thought: Which leader did you decide to be?
If you have a recovery action to take with a team member, what would it be? When will you do it?
Congratulations!... for being self-aware and having the guts to take action… everyone will benefit from this, including you!
Know that loyalty, respect and love from team members are built over time and it’s not because of your title, but because you care and show that you care.
Food for Thought: Are you dealing with head-count or heart-count?
For a compilation of practical leadership stories in the workplace and strategies in becoming a servant leader, check out Dr. Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell’s book - SERVANT LEADERSHIP IN ACTION, (2018).