When I was a small child I used to get the worst pains in my legs. I remember that ache and how I would moan to my parents. My memories make it seem like this went on for years and that I had multiple visits to the emergency room. My mom tells me that I did complain a lot about leg pain and our primary care doctor would say the same thing every visit, these are growing pains. I thought at the time he was making this up, but there really is such a thing as pain from growing. Many adolescents experience pain as their bones lengthen and tendons stretch. It is not that uncommon.
Much like the pain that can sometimes accompany physical growth, we all experience pain as we grow emotionally. In my experience emotional growth yields more discomfort. The thing about physical growth is that you reach a point and the growth stops. Opportunities for emotional growth on the other hand never cease. We learn at a young age that crying or pitching a tantrum for a time will get us what we want, but after a while even the most doting parent reaches a limit. That type of behavior most certainly will not work as we move into our young adult years. Aging and maturing forces us to keep our emotions in check, to listen to others points of view, and to balance our selfish needs with the greater good.
Over my career I have met so many talented people who were overlooked because of the way they responded to certain situations. In other words their emotional intelligence (EI) caused them to lose credit. EI is measured by the ability to recognize one’s own and the other person’s emotions. It is expected that individuals guide their thinking and behavior based on the proper understanding of this emotional information. Studies have shown that individuals with higher EI are more effective leaders. There is also a lot of criticism around EI and whether it can be measured apart from IQ or personality traits. It seems to be that a certain level of emotion, be it joy, sadness, anger or disgust, are useful and just like different leadership styles these emotions can be effective in different organizations. Differing levels of emotion can be a pro or con depending on the environment. For example, a highly emotional drill sergeant is more effective as a leader of young soldiers than a laissez-faire leader would be. The same could be said for many professions.
The old saying “You get more with honey than you do vinegar,” is true. Just like the child throwing a tantrum, in our professional lives perceived tantrums will only work so many times. I am here to appeal to your curiosity for a moment. Perhaps, just maybe what one person perceives as a tantrum is actually passion. That’s right, passion, and if you can look past the approach for a moment you might find that what the person is saying actually makes sense. We can spend too much time talking about how to be politically correct that we allow our problems to perpetuate. I am not discounting the need for continued maturing and keeping our emotions in check, but we cannot be so concerned about everyone’s liking us that we are not willing to hold each other accountable. General Colin Powell put it so elegantly when he said, “Being a great leader means sometimes pissing people off.” We have to be sure we are not pulling a Donald Trump and being obstinate while at the same time we are not backing down just so no ones feathers get ruffled.
Just like the growing pains I experienced as a child, great pain can come with growing emotionally. We should never confuse our level of emotional maturity with our ability to create harmony. Avoiding calling a duck a duck does not change the fact that it is a duck. Ignoring accountability will only lead to more problems. When difficult decisions need to be made, tactics of soliciting allies, performing root cause analysis, or collaborating with peers are all fine, but in the end a decision needs to be made. Great leaders make the tough calls and no decision is ever without risks, but people are waiting on our direction. Personally, I observe leaders I respect and try to learn from their mastery of the this delicate balance.
I encourage you to think about the following questions as we proceed on life’s continuous journey of growth.
- Do you discredit others because they handle challenges differently than you?
- Do direct conversations put you on the defensive?
- Do you avoid holding others accountable because you are concerned about being liked?
- Do you confuse a person who holds others accountable as being negative?
- Are you more willing to complain in the hall then you are to tackle issues head on?
“Leadership is solving problems. The day people stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership”. – Colin Powell.
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