Remember the see-saw? At recess, you and your best friend would each take a side then burst into laughter as your counterbalance launched each of you off the ground.
But what about that one kid who took sadistic pleasure in leaving you up there or, worse than that, they jump off suddenly causing the balance to shift and enjoy watching your ankle get crushed between the metal and the ground. A see-saw is only serving its purpose when it is balanced.
It is the same for leadership. The best leaders know how to balance. No, this is not about not work/life balance, but rather emotional balance. (But leaders don’t have feelings!) Not true!
In the book Care to Dare, the authors studied over 1000 executives to determine that emotional balance is key to successful leadership.
Leaders say they want balance, but it is difficult to obtain because it requires inner strength. It is much easier to be upset when things go wrong rather than fight for optimism.
How do you stay balanced?
According to Daniel Goleman, staying balanced involves managing your emotions, staying calm, and containing your inner tension.
The key to emotional management is first and foremost about acute self-awareness. Are you able to correctly identify what you are feeling at the moment? Great leaders understand that their emotions manifest themselves in physical ways. Anger feels like fire in the brain; joy makes you light and spring-stepped; frustration feels like your innards twisting and contorting.
Inward emotions have outward physiological signs. Recognize those physical signs of emotional imbalance. Yes, you must feel your emotions. (I knew it! A cheesy feelings article!) Hear me out.
Feeling your emotions helps leaders label what they are feeling. This simple act of labeling helps one gain control of the feeling. Emotions are like hurricanes, always fleeting, but if ignored, they can do some severe damage.
Self-awareness allows you to feel, label, and then take control. Once practiced within the psyche of the leader, they can start labeling emotions for their employees. Imagine one of your employees is making sarcastic remarks during a meeting. By softly saying, “You sound annoyed by this meeting, let’s discuss this later,” you will successfully diffuse the sarcasm because you labeled their emotion. The brain does this fantastic thing when self-awareness is present.
Human beings have something called a negativity bias, where we are prone to pessimism more than optimism. If gone unbalanced, your negativity will swallow you up. You don’t want to leave the negativity bias raised high on your see-saw.
Great leaders know how to remain calm amid impending doom. A scene from the film, Ad Astra, comes to mind. Brad Pitt’s character has an accident in space, causing him to be sucked into the earth’s gravitational pull. As he spins uncontrollably back down into the burning atmosphere, his emotional ability to remain calm helps him think straight and figure out how to save his life, despite the abnormal chaos thrust upon him.
Leaders understand that accidents happen, chaos can come from nothing, and setbacks are inevitable. But you will recover. Remain calm. Think clearly. Take control.
Contain Inner Tension
In an episode of the sitcom Frasier, Niles (Frasier’s brother) finds himself in a murder investigation after accidentally providing his ex-wife the crossbow that kills her lover. In the episode, Frasier tells Niles to confront his feelings, but Niles decides to repress them instead, which causes him to have a nervous breakdown at the cafe Nervosa (go figure).
Repression is the example of the kid jumping off the see-saw. It leads to pain. Inner tensions must come out through discussion or other healthy forms of energy balance, like exercise.
The more you practice managing your emotional thoughts and their physical responses, the better containment of your inner self, and the better leader you will become.