In the world of coaching, there is a commonly used saying – ‘meet the client where they are at.’ It sounds wise, but what does it really mean? What if your client is in a place that you find morally, or professionally challenging? Sometimes the decision of how to show up as a coach, in those moments, is not so clear.
Corporate cultures can contribute to our repression of feelings. When we think of being ‘professional’ we often don’t think of being in touch with our emotions, we think of showing up as logical and rational beings. However, as Gervase Bushe states in his book Clear Leadership “people may talk about logic and analysis, but what they actually decide to do is based as much on their feelings as on anything else. ” We have been socialized to believe talking about feelings is ‘fluffy stuff’ when in fact not talking about it is simply ignoring key information. Leadership is trending towards a more authentic and vulnerable style, a style that allows us to connect to each other through honest experience. Research shows that acknowledging our vulnerability makes us more resilient, avoiding it makes us more susceptible to threats.**
Learning to be vulnerable is not an easy task. I was coaching a leadership team, using the Clear Leadership model, which requires describing your observations, thoughts, wants and (you guessed it) FEELINGS. The team embraced the challenge and we worked on it over a couple of years. As they each got more comfortable with the skills, describing feelings was always forgotten. I labelled myself the ‘feelings cop’ because I was constantly intervening and asking “and what is the feeling?” (I even made a cute sign I could hold up as I got tired of sounding like a broken record). What I learned is that there is a lot of unlearning that needs to happen to reshape our work cultures to allow leaders to be whole, emotional beings. In time, the team built a more psychologically safe culture, allowing for deeper and more honest communication within the group. We need to accept our vulnerability and lean into it, in order to access the strength of being an authentic leader.
Tips to working with feelings:
– Introduce a structured approach such as Clear Leadership, where feelings are incorporated as part of a proven leadership model.
– Create a list of feelings or emotions that people can reference. Start with the basics- sad, mad, afraid, happy, disgust. Work with your team to build a custom list that everyone is comfortable with.
– Start small and build, start with positive feelings and discussions that are not as heavy or high pressure.
* Bushe, Gervase. 2011. Clear Leadership. [Edition unavailable]. John Murray Press. Pg. 114.
* Brown, Brené. 2013. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Thorndike, Me., Center Point Large Print.