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How Leaders Can Help Their Employees by Showing Vulnerability

  • Study looks at how leaders handle negative emotions in interactions with team members
  • Openness about fears and anxiety associated with greater performance and resilience among workers
  • Benefits to this approach include greater empathy and openness

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

Business leaders who are open about their personal fears and anxieties are more likely to have effective, high-performing teams who can remain resilient in the face of hardships, according to research recently published in the Harvard Business Review.

The conclusion was based on research where 30 leaders in global corporations, national and international charities, and startups in the United States and United Kingdom kept journals for four weeks. Their entries addressed the topics of what was emerging for them, what needs they had, and what they were letting go of.

Researchers concluded that leaders tended to deal with negative emotions in three main ways: trying to project a more positive attitude, avoiding emotion altogether, or sharing their negative emotions with team members.

  • Leaders who shared their negative emotions were able to create greater empathy with team members, encourage them to be more open about their own emotions, and establish better morale
  • Negative aspects of other leadership styles included a sense of disassociation between the leader and team, the unhealthy effects of trying to conceal emotions, and an inability to capitalize on positive emotions and address negative ones
  • Researchers also offered tips on being more open with team members about negative emotions, including taking the time to reflect on and assess your emotions, coming up with a communications plan with employees (including setting aside time to discuss how people are doing), modeling effective ways to address emotions, and sharing good emotions as well as negative ones

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