I just started sharing some very personal feelings with my employees, and their response was surprising.

I've been running tech companies for the past decade. In my twenties, having raised millions of dollars in venture capital, I made a decision that I would manage unemotionally. I believed that it was paramount to never lose my temper, set clear expectations, and demand accountability. This worked... some of the time.

Like many new business leaders, I wanted to work with people like me; hard charging, thick skinned doers, that loved to debate ideas, and always felt a sense of urgency to get more done. I looked for team members who displayed the qualities I most valued in myself. That was a big mistake.

Teams are successful because they're diverse. Look at any championship sports team: they're a collection of different personalities, role players vs. stars, background and talents. Their differences, when combined with shared vision & values, make that team great.

I managed and gave feedback the way i wanted to receive it; focus on the facts, explain the logic and expectations going forward. Don't punish people for what went wrong in the past, but be clear that the same mistake won't happen twice. Be calm, detached, ask the person sitting across from you what's going on, listen thoughtfully and give feedback on what can help improve the situation. For some this works perfectly, but there's another group of people, where that won't make a bit of difference.

Depending on the person, now I often start by sharing my feelings. "I was really angry & hurt when X happened," or "I felt disappointed like you let the team down" or "I was so happy and proud when you figured out Y". Some people are not driven by expectations, they need to empathize with the emotions of others, before they reflect on their own behavior.

It was so strange when I first tried this strategy, because I believed that as a boss my feelings shouldn't matter. My role is to coach and support my team so they can meet their best potential. I always had such disdain and contempt for leaders that always make it about themselves. But looking through that lens alone, I missed a key component.

Some members of your team want to be managed by goals and expectations. "Tell me what's expected of me, give me the resources to accomplish the goal, and I'll make it happen". But other members of your team need to feel an emotional connection to want to do their best. "I feel like I understand where you're coming from, I'll make it happen."

So how do you know if you should be managing someone sharing more or less feelings? Partly, it's a generational divide. I've often found folks who've worked longer appreciate clear expectations and unemotional managers, while millennials often want to feel more emotionally connected and better understand the why. But there are many exceptions there as well.

The ultimate test, is what most leads to your desired outcome. Business is about achieving outcomes ethically, any set of tools that moves your team to achieve it's goals, is what you should to be using.

As I get older, I understand more the importance of empathy and being vulnerable as a leader. Sometimes sharing our feelings, even one's of hurt or anger, make us more relatable, and help us connect to bring out the best in others.

Published on: Sep 7, 2016