Taming the Beast Within - How to Lead with Heart and Still Get Things Done
If you are a leader with a strong personality, you probably have a knack for getting things done, but how are others viewing you when it comes to empathy and communication?
In The Godfather, after Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is shot, his four sons discuss how to retaliate against Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), the youngest brother not involved in the mafia, offers to avenge their father. However, his brothers emphasize that retaliation is strictly business to protect their operation and send a message to "the community," devoid of personal feelings or justice.
In my career, I've encountered managers who resemble the Corleone brothers in their behavior. While they never resorted to walking around the conference room with a baseball bat or leaving a horse's head in a rival's bed, they share a similar attitude of prioritizing business over personal connections. These leaders tend to be controlling and require guidance, as their behavior can harm relationships and impact projects, despite their brilliance.
They are often accused of mistrusting their team, failing to share and delegate, intimidating others, using a commanding tone, and avoiding vulnerability. I've seen that these actions often stem from a need to maintain control and prioritize personal and company interests over team growth.
For example, an old client of mine, let's call him Daniel, a brilliant director of engineering at a high-tech company in Silicon Valley, used strong language when addressing his team. He believed his team members could "take it" and were fine with his communication style. However, when I administered a 360-feedback assessment, it revealed that Daniel's colleagues had issues with his approach. They felt he jumped into advising them, did not trust their capabilities, was not authentic enough, and made them feel intimidated.
First, we had to understand why he needed control. We explored ways to improve his communication style and build stronger relationships with colleagues and team members. Here are the points that came up:
Several factors are often at the base of an unhealthy need for control in leadership:
• Fear of failure: Some leaders may worry that if they don't maintain strict control over their teams, they will fail to achieve their goals. If the goals fail, they see themselves as a failure.
• Perfectionism: A desire for perfection can lead to micromanaging and a lack of trust in the team's abilities. It also dampens creativity and innovation.
• Lack of trust: Some leaders may have trust issues and not trust their team to get the job done without their interference; as a result, the team lacks autonomy and requires validation for most decisions.
• Insecurity: Control stems from fear and scarcity and ties individuals to their present selves. The tendency for control comes from a natural inclination to protect one's ego, which slows team and organizational growth.
Consider the impact of your communication style on others.
Last week, I worked with a group of leaders who took an Emotional Intelligence assessment. The results mirrored their communication styles and made them aware of how it affected their colleagues and team members.
Having an appropriate level of assertiveness is important as it is one of the components of emotional intelligence (EQ). However, if someone is overly assertive and doesn't express it properly, it could result in negative consequences. Although direct communication can be effective, it may also be perceived as harsh or domineering, leading to an imbalanced power dynamic that obstructs collaboration and progress.
Through the workshop, I helped them reflect on adjusting their communication style to be more empathetic and approachable—actively listening to others, acknowledging their contributions, and using open-ended questions to encourage dialogue and foster a sense of shared ownership.
With empathy, you get to view different perspectives and realize how your beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and experiences form the layers that determine your reality and how you respond to situations.
Daniel's perception of his colleagues' ability to handle his comments was based on his own perspective and colored glasses, which was different from how others experienced it.
Finally, practice vulnerability and "make it personal."
To build collaboration and inspire your workforce, you must make things personal.
As a leader, it can be easy to fall into the trap of projecting a persona of invincibility and strength. However, this can create a barrier between you and your team members and limit opportunities for collaboration and growth—practice vulnerability by sharing your own challenges. Get your ego out of the way and be there when needed.
After several months, Daniel started delegating responsibilities to capable peers and sharing his plans and expectations with the team. He became more transparent and vulnerable in expressing his concerns and asking for input and strengthening relationships. People refrained from deferring responsibilities to him and became more empowered, confident, and efficient as a result.
Your team wants a leader they can admire and rely on for assistance. By showing your human side, they may feel more comfortable confiding in you and sharing their vulnerabilities. This can foster a higher sense of connection and trust.
• What is your overall mode of operating? Are you holding back information?
• Are you aware of your biases in how you address people?
• Do you have a "they can take it" mindset when you talk to your coworkers?
• Have you ever approached things along the lines of "this is just business, nothing personal"?
I help brilliant minds lead with heart and empathy.