My talk's topic was "Difficult Conversations: Why They're Important and How to Have Them." It was maybe a stretch to the overall theme of the Forum which was Core Values and the Chain of Command. I think I made it work though.
After my second of two presentations, a young cadet approached me, asking if he could email me a question once he had an opportunity to formulate it a little better in his own mind. Here's what he sent me a few days later:
"I think it's best to start with a little explanation. There is clearly a need to balance emotion and reason in a professional setting, especially in the military. I've read and heard a lot about not letting emotions control your decisions as a leader, and that you have to lead with your mind. On the flipside, there's not as much talk about using your heart or emotions effectively as a leader, and I think it's something worth exploring. I understand this is all a little vague, but hope I get the gist of my thoughts across!
Here's my response:
I don’t think I’d be comfortable saying I have the balance between heart and mind figured out…but I’m glad to know I come across that way. “Fake it ‘til you make it” works sometimes :) Your question definitely got me thinking about it though… which is always a good thing.
-- Know yourself: I choke up when I talk about anything remotely emotional. It’s taken me *years* to accept that. It helped when my uncle said his dad (my grandfather) was the same way, and most of our family members have the same attribute. It’s like knowing I came by it honestly made it ok for me to be that way, instead of thinking it was a weakness or something to fight. It still can be a little…um, uncomfortable, especially when (for example) telling a heart-wrenching sea story in front of 100 cadets… But I’m human, and it’s part of who I am, so I decided recently to own it. I’m not sure I could have done it before, or without being confident in lots of other ways that I’m good at what I do. Vulnerability is hard.
-- Know yourself, part 2: I don’t have a poker face. Never have; don’t think I’ll get one anytime soon. What I think and feel is almost immediately communicated across my face. So, when I’m pissed, I give an evil eye (ask 1/C Labelle…he probably saw me give the evil eye to a JO at some point during his 1/C summer on DILIGENCE). When I’m excited and happy, I bounce and grin. I’m genuine, and people realize it pretty quickly. I try to use this to my advantage to build trust… which requires me to maintain a positive outlook so I’m contributing positively to a situation instead of negatively raining on everyone’s parade all the time. But the important thing is to be genuine; Coasties are smart enough to have pretty sensitive bullshit detectors.
-- Empathy: Upon reflection, I realized that the most common way I use emotions in a professional setting is to understand where someone else is coming from. If I can put myself in their shoes, think about how I’d feel if I was them, dealing with what they’re living with, it helps me empathize with them and maybe come up with a better solution than if I just looked at the surface of the problem. I took a great class during grad school on Conflict Resolution, and one of the main ideas behind negotiation is looking for common ground. Emotions can offer a path to common ground if you can see a situation from your negotiation partner’s point of view.
-- Know the policy: Go look up and read the governing policy for whatever decision you’re trying to make. Read a couple paragraphs before and after to see if there’s explanatory information that gives background to help understand why the policy is the way it is. Look up any references. This helps build the knowledge base to support the next thought…
You asked a great question. Thanks very much for the opportunity to think about it as I put together my answer. Also, I hope I actually answered your question! It’s always a little hard to tell with leadership questions like this. Please feel free to ask for clarification if you need it.