By Ian Sampson
As the old saying goes, “Being emotionally crippled is not essential for running a business but it sure helps!” (I just made that old saying up!)
So what if your personal life is a mess? What does it matter, so long as you delude yourself that you are keeping up appearances on the job. Well, I would venture to say that, even if they can keep up appearances, two things at least tend to happen to misleaders who do not make sure their ongoing emotional health:
1 They might have a sizable income and become ever more miserable and depressed to the point where either their health gives out or someone has to step in and remove them
2. While this is going on their organisation and the people within it suffer. The other old saying, popularized by Prof. Bob Garratt, “the fish rots from the head” is so true here. The chief leader’s people, even those far removed from them in the organisation, know whether their life is balanced or not. At any level in the organisation, the misleader’s life that is out of balance makes their people cautious, nervy and risk averse.
No one, except maybe the misleader, is fooled. Leaders need to do themselves a favour: if their home life is weird they need to do something about the situation. Leaders need to continuously work on their home life or their organisational leadership becomes shackled and hog tied and those who work for the leader also suffer.
We can’t help bringing problems from outside work into work. Everyone in a leadership position knows this from personal experience. Sometimes our “out of work” life has to deal with issues and problems that need tremendous resources of time, talent and love. The point I am trying to make is not that problems shouldn’t and won’t happen; it is that leaders need to be aware of the impact of what is happening in one aspect of our life on other aspects AND MANAGE IT. This does not mean suppress or ignore it. Address the problem. If it ultimately means stepping aside from the leadership role, at least for a time while the matter gets addressed, then the good leader will know that this is both beneficial and necessary for personal and organizational health.
There is another side to this principle. Dysfunctional leaders often find themselves misleading their people and their organisation because of a conflict between their personal values and a particular situation or because of a conflict between their personal values and the organisation’s values. Every leader has been called upon to do something which calls personal values into question. Sometimes a strategic or operational decision has to be made which brings this to the surface. The emotionally intelligent leader will deal with the situation by acknowledging the potential conflict and working out a way to move forward. The misleader will often not be aware of the progressive erosion of congruence between personal and organisational values or will choose to subvert his/her personal values to the point where they become dysfunctional; either way it spells trouble for the leader, the people and the organisation as a whole. A nice summary of this point was provided by a friend who describes it thus: “Become a robot; live in your role” and went on to tell me this story……….
John was a management consultant working with a large international operating in the Pacific region. His primary client, Ron, was a functional leader who was very driven to achieve. Ron had been in the role for several years, leading large-scale organizational change in a bid to keep the culture and operating environment sufficiently flexible to weather the storms of international competition. More recently he had been working long hours for many months, leading complex labour negotiations for a crucial new employee collective agreement, dealing with media, concerned Board members and politicians. At this point Ron invited John home for dinner after a long three day meeting. Ron’s wife had gone out, evidently to avoid having to play the attentive hostess role. His eldest boy greeted Ron and John with a demand for money and the keys to the car without any show of affection or interest in his Dad at all. The younger boy was sullen and withdrawn and disappeared to his room after the most cursory introduction to John. The meal was tense, punctuated with lots of alcohol and the host became so belligerent and morose that John couldn’t wait to get a taxi back to his hotel. Within a matter of months, the work situation deteriorated and Ron ultimately abandoned his employment because he just couldn’t deal with the conflicts in his roles as a manager, colleague, confidant, boss, father, husband and member of the community.
How do we (usually men) delude ourselves into thinking that we can operate successfully and unaffectedly when our home lives, our underlying values and our beliefs are being assaulted by factors either at work or outside?
If you are a leader and this resonates with you, get help!
About Ian: Ian Sampson (B.Comm., LLB., FAICD, FAIM) is a Cause & Effective Associate. He is a Strategic Advisor to Boards, an Executive Coach and a Facilitator of our Powerful Leadership in Action Program. He can be contacted here.