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Leaders: Share your feelings! (Just be deliberate when you do it!)

One of the things I enjoy most as a leadership speaker is when people challenge my thinking or ask for an opinion that stretches my perspective. This is how I learn and grow as a teacher, and as a person. Last night I did a webinar for an amazing group called NAWIC: The National Association of Women in Construction. I’ve presented at their annual conference and chapter meetings and I’ve gotten to know several members quite well. This is an amazing group dedicated to developing women leaders in all phases of the construction industry from small contractors and trades to corporate management, engineering, architecture and other aspects of the industry. One of the participants shared a communication challenge she was experiencing––communication was the focus of this webinar. She said that it was sometimes difficult to be transparent with male colleagues. That sometimes she would reveal more feeling than she thought they’d be comfortable with––or that they may perceive the sharing of feelings as a sign of weakness.

Sharing your feelings can be a strength––instead of a weakness!

And if we assume for the sake of argument that women are more open about sharing feelings, then men can learn a lot from them! The trick is make sure we're sharing feelings deliberately, in a way that does not compromise our effectiveness as leaders. Back to the challenge…

I found it challenging to respond for two reasons:

First––I am not a woman. I often work with groups where I would be considered an “outsider.” I’ve experienced this also when working with law enforcement and military personnel––and with people who are incarcerated. Not being of “their world,” I feel the need to be very respectful of the fact that as much as I try, I cannot fully share their specific experience. The best I can do is empathize. Because I’m not a woman, I cannot honestly say I know exactly how it feels to be woman in this particular situation. But I do have feelings! And despite the bad press, most men do. The tough part is that you’re often not aware of a man’s feelings––until you hurt them! This issue came up because of my emphasis on “transparency” as an essential quality of a leader’s communication. Let’s define this quickly–– Transparency means not keeping secrets. It means that whenever possible you are open about what’s happening in the organization and you solicit input from stakeholders and even those affected on the periphery. This is essential for a couple of reasons… First of all, if you want people to trust you as a leader, one of the worst things you can do is keep them in the dark. If people start to feel you don’t trust them with important information, they’re not going to share important information with you. And that leads to the second reason transparency is so essential… Great solutions and innovations very often come from the front lines! The people most immediately engaged in the fundamental processes of your organization, whether that’s creating a great product or delivering a great service, possess most of the “intellectual capital” in your organization.

  • They know how to get the job done.

  • They know the immediate needs and desires of your clients and customers.