There are probably dozens of traits that come to mind when you think of what sets great leaders apart from the rest of the pack. But one of the most important things that every great leader understands--something that other might miss--is the importance of having adequate emotional reserves when you show up at the office every day.
What I mean by this is that you, as a leader, need the capacity to absorb and react to negative news and stress in a positive way. That's not always easy to do. But when all the other eyes in the organization are on you, you don't always have a choice. You set the tone of the organization and having capacity to respond is something every organization wants. That's why it's critical for leaders to be conscious of their emotional reserves and to do their best to make sure they have enough fuel in their tank.
Dan Sullivan talks about a similar notion when he talks about the importance of "protecting your energy."
When leaders don't protect their emotional reserves, the entire organization can suffer as a result.
Consider an example where a CEO is going through a tough time not just at work, but also at home. They're working late, eating poorly, and not exercising. They might also be fighting with their spouse. Heck, even the family dog tries to bite them when they get home.
Now imagine how this person will react the next day when the company gets hit with some really bad news like, say, that their biggest customer just dropped them. What do you think will happen? They'll snap, right? They will rant and rave and throw things and look to blame someone for the disaster. Does that sound like a healthy and productive workplace? One you'd want to work in?
Conversely, a leader whole has protected their emotional reserves will be capable of handling that bad news in a much more measured and mature way. Rather than dwell for too long on what went wrong, they will begin steering the organization's energy toward what you can do next - responding rather than reacting.
Let's face it, there's always going to be bad news. But the best CEOs and leaders do their best to make sure they are emotionally healthy enough to deal with life's curveballs.
There's a mistaken belief that you can just work your way through tough times. But the truth is that the best leaders understand that when their emotional tank is getting low and try to take some time off from work as a way to replenish their emotional stores so that they can best help their organization when the tough times come around.
Steven Covey called this "sharpening the saw." If you aren't sharp as the leader of the organization, how do you think the rest of your people will perform? Short answer: not good.
When you have built up your emotional reserves, you can also tackle tasks and hard conversations you might otherwise try to avoid--and pay the price for later on.
I recently worked with a CEO, for example, who, as a result of changing his business model, was faced with the prospect of letting go two of his long-time executives who were also his friends. Talk about a hard conversation to have.
But this CEO tackled the task head on and, because he had protected his emotional reserves, was able to deliver the hard news in a way that didn't result in any long-term negative feelings from the two executives being let go. If he had been any less prepared, or emotionally spent, he might have otherwise delayed having the conversations--which would have hurt the organization--or spoke to his friends in such a way that their relationships could have been ruined forever.
While great CEOs understand the power of protecting and refilling their emotional reserves when needed, it's not always a trait that other people may notice about them. It's a subtle skill for a leader to possess--and a powerful one.
On the flip side, it's always clear which leaders lack this ability--you can find them in the corner office yelling and screaming their head off.
So ask yourself which organization is going to be better off in the end: the one with the screaming CEO or the one who keeps his cool under pressure?
The answer should be obvious.