Most leaders have innate characteristics that tend to hold steady over time. “He tends to be fairly stubborn.” “She’s high-energy and no-nonsense.” Honestly, those traits can be assets rather than impediments.
However, when leaders try to relate to one another, a problem can occur if their communication and behavior styles don’t match. Fortunately, those elements can be learned. In fact, plenty of executives and founders would do well to rethink how they communicate.
Take the concept of forgiveness, for instance. It’s a bit of a rare commodity among the C-suite elite. Rather than being valued as a positive or powerful virtue, forgiveness is seen as weak. In reality, eschewing forgiveness stunts leaders’ emotional intelligence. Research proves a strong link between EI and job happiness; thus, grudge-holding executives hurt themselves by being unable to show compassion.
Of course, an inability to bury the hatchet is just one of several unproductive behaviors keeping executives from reaching individual and group success. On most teams, several others are also at play.
Unhealthy leader-to-leader habits
What are the actions that most hamper progress in the C-suite? Consider these: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.
Leaders who habitually find fault in others, act as though they’re being attacked, lack respect for their peers, and obstruct forward movement wind up keeping their companies at a standstill. Plus, these people tend to ruminate on their mistakes, playing conversations over and over, ultimately losing valuable work time grumbling. Not surprisingly, their frustration and anger boil over to their colleagues and employees, causing lost productivity.
As pessimism creeps through the office, individuals gradually enter into a state of low-grade or even high-grade irritation. Their creativity plummets. They can’t get in a state of flow. Everyone’s on edge. It’s a true recipe for becoming a sitting duck to disruptive competitors.
Changing the workplace leadership vibe
What’s the antidote to all this roiling and boiling? In a nutshell, vulnerability. Showing fear, sadness, hurt, and even shame opens the door to people viewing one another as human. It’s tough to turn a man into a monster if the man is showing a vulnerable side.
I’ve experienced this myself. My father and I had a contentious relationship, even as we worked together — he was my boss for a time. Even though I intellectually knew that his intense need to be right was a symptom of a deep subconscious insecurity, I didn’t see him in a new light until years later when I witnessed him cry and admit those insecurities for the first time. After that moment, my frustrations melted away; I was somehow more able to accept him for who he was. It was a vital part of my development, and it changed our connection for the better.
Leaders owe it to themselves and their organizations to work on their skill sets in all areas, including EI. If you’ve been mired in ineffective behaviors, commit to incorporating the following actions into your professional life:
- Learn to apologize.
Saying you’re sorry goes far, especially on the job. In fact, during a research investigation, leaders who issued apologies were viewed by peers as transformational. Another study showed that leaders who apologized made others feel psychologically safer and simultaneously improved their own psyches. After all, when we admit we’re wrong, we don’t have to sit on our feelings. Instead, we can move on, remembering the regret and maybe even seeking to avoid future humiliation with better choices.
- Show your vulnerability.
Worried that you’ll lose face if you show your vulnerable side? Guess again. Strong leaders are self-aware; this allows them to admit their errors. Yes, it takes courage to be vulnerable, but it pays off in a freed-up mind. As researcher Brené Brown has said, innovation isn’t possible without vulnerability. If you want to add value to your team, you must be open to showing yourself fully to the leaders around you. Not only will you add a sense of authenticity to your persona, but you’ll also foster deeper connections with peers.
- Opt for forgiveness.
It can be difficult to forgive, but it sure beats taking revenge or allowing past transgressions to live rent-free in your mind. Make no mistake: You don’t have to become a pincushion or punching bag. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgoing justice when needed, nor does it require reconciliation. To forgive another is simply a willingness to be mentally constructive, not destructive. Interestingly, forgiveness can even lead to a significant improvement in stress levels. Even if you’re working in an intensely demanding position, forgiveness can combat the negative effects of anxiety.
As long as you’re a leader in business, you’ll need to develop your people skills. Opt to evolve, learning how to deal wisely with the tough aspects of being at the top. And when you start to slide into unproductive behaviors? Just remember these words attributed to Buddha: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal ... ; you are the one who gets burned.”