It's been drilled into us: Our personal lives and professional lives should remain separate. We're expected to check our emotions at the door -- and we often expect our employees to do the same.
But pretending to be an emotionless robot hurts your ability to connect with and motivate your employees, and it doesn't do much for them, either. There are many reasons employees tend to dislike their bosses, such as failing to recognize employees' achievements or refusing to ask about their lives outside work. Pretending that employees don't have feelings doesn't eliminate their feelings, it intensifies the negative ones they have for both you and the business.
There are three leadership myths we've fallen prey to, designed to keep people's personal and work lives separate. While they're effective, they create emotional distance. The weaker your connections with your employees are, the less motivated they are to stay.
The elephant in the room
Surveys have shown that connection is a core selling point for top performers; when they leave, it's because of friction with their bosses, weak communication, or a lack of empowerment. As Jason Wesbecher, the EVP of sales and marketing at Corel, says, "The theme of problems arising through strained relationships can be heard loud and clear."
The irony is that while bosses try to not acknowledge the messy personal details of working with people, they make employees feel they're being held at arm's length. By failing to connect, they stunt employee retention and company growth. If these assumptions sound familiar, you should start questioning them.
Here are the three leadership myths that you must question:
Leadership is about getting people to do the work.
You don't just want people to do the work; you want people to want to do the work. There's a big difference between competence and ownership. Someone who's talented but going through the motions won't look for opportunities to improve processes, tweak the customer experience or go the extra mile.
The other day, I was talking to a client who had a record month. "What's your plan to have another one?" I asked. "I haven't thought of that yet. Just celebrating!" he laughed. I asked what he needed to celebrate with his team -- not just by himself -- to engage people and get them thinking about one project they could each support to hit the goal next month. This should be part of the process, and they should be empowered to take ownership. It's good for them, and it's good for the company.
Leadership doesn't include emotions.
People are swirling with emotional needs. They come to work with doubts and fears; they can't just check them at the door. Leaders must be open to understanding those emotions. It's their responsibility to connect with their people and help them find ways to move forward, despite their fear or doubt. Leaders who are too afraid of emotions never grow, and they don't get to see their team members grow, either.
Eight years ago, I lost $3 million on a deal. It was heartbreaking, and I struggled to find forgiveness. After, I got a job in sales. I talked to a lot of the leaders at my new company, and we had friendly relationships, but no one ever asked how I was coping with the setback or how it impacted my confidence. I didn't expect them to solve my problems -- they couldn't -- but I also never felt they cared about me as a (visibly struggling) person.
Leaders should stay out of their employees' personal lives.
Some boundaries should definitely exist between leaders and employees, such as "no dating subordinates" rules. But it's ridiculous for us to think that just because a person's physical body is at work that what's going on outside of work isn't on the person's mind. Divorce, caring for aging parents, dealing with a child's illness: All of these things take a toll and impact the energy and focus we have at work.
About a year ago, Lena Requist, ONTRAPORT's president and her business automation software team suffered through the Santa Barbara fires and mudslide. Rather than leave each employee to fend for himself, the leaders bought masks and HEPA filters and eventually rented a ranch two hours away to help employees evacuate and safely work. Pretending the disaster wasn't impacting the company's employees would have been foolish, and its leaders built trust by continuing to pay and assist its workers.
Emotional distance can be helpful when you're trying to gain a new perspective or focus on a project, but it's a terrible method to use with employees. Failing to acknowledge what motivates them or impacts their emotional state makes you seem heartless -- and they'll find it easy to leave the second something better comes along.