It’s just business…it’s not personal.

I detest this line. I have a visceral reaction whenever I hear these words. Because as a theory it’s deeply flawed. Business is personal. Businesses are built by people, run by people, designed to serve people. It couldn’t be any more personal!

Yet we insist on trying to separate the two. I often wonder if drawing this line between business and personal helps leaders sleep at night when they’ve abandoned their integrity in the process of making a difficult decision.

It certainly never lulled me to sleep because business is so personal to me. It always has been. Business decisions that affected the people working for me have often kept me up at night as I weighed the impact my actions could have on my colleagues.

“F” for feeler.

Of course my emotions haven’t always been a welcome addition to the workplace.

On the Meyer Briggs scale, I am off the charts when it comes to the thinking and feeling metric.  I’m an “F”: a feeler. I have apologized for years that I am a deeply feeling leader. I have apologized for making business personal. I’ve been shamed, I’ve been teased, and I’ve been dismissed for the feelings I bring into the workplace.

Years ago my partners and I were working with one of my favorite HR trainers, Paul Spindel. During the training Paul bluntly looked at my partners and said, “one day you will kick the “F” out of her.” I think the shock value drove laughter but ultimately, it happened. The very nature of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry culture placed a greater emphasis on data and science than perhaps on emotion or instinct. We know data and science married to emotion is a winning combination.

And, do you know what?  I stand by my “F”.

I believe that in business, we should see each other; we should understand the impact of our decisions. And doing so might just make us better leaders…


There’s no crying in the workplace — but maybe there should be?

Tom Hanks’ infamous line in the movie A League of Their Own, “there is no crying in baseball” could be adapted to “there is no crying in the workplace.” This headline would be distributed with diplomas at college graduations across the country.  The message could take the form of a leaflet entitled, Fatal Flaws in the Workplace: How to avoid making career limiting mistakes. Or how about, No Crying at Work: A guide to suppressing your emotions in order to climb the corporate ladder?

But given that we spend upwards of 40 hours a week in the workplace, and often spend more time with our colleagues than our friends and family, do we really want those hours to be spent suppressing our emotions and pushing down our feelings?  And do the people who go through their careers doing so really make better, more efficient leaders?

Apparently not.

In fact, a recent study found that when a leader scores highly in emotional intelligence testing, employees are up to 4 times less likely to leave the company. When a leader shows their team it’s okay to express emotion, employees know they’re able to show up as their authentic selves, and motivation and productivity soar benefiting the team and the organization as a whole.

Leaders who show emotion actually create more followers and loyalists.

The days of stoic leaders — unreadable and unreachable — are coming to a close.

So let’s imagine a new leaflet for our graduates titled, Leaders Embrace Emotion or Leaders Build Loyalty through Authenticity. Let’s forget the culture that has conditioned us to try to look and act the same, to push down feelings, and hide our emotions.

What if, instead, organizations decided to embrace emotion in the workplace? I’m not suggesting you show up a blubbering mess and I’m not talking about just showing happiness or sadness. I’m advocating we allow conflict and anger to show up at work. Because let’s face it, these emotions do show up — we just don’t know what to do with them. Instead of avoiding eye contact when someone cries or they express frustration, or they show emotion, talk about it. Work it out, find a way through.

Of course it won’t necessarily be easy. You’ve likely spent your professional life building walls to keep your emotions in check, to separate business from the personal. So here are a few tips to consider as you start creating a new corporate culture that welcomes emotion.

  1. Don’t ignore emotion in the workplace. Pretending emotions don’t exist won’t make them go away.
  2. Do ask, “how can I help?” in any emotional situation; this question will likely shift the focus. You may only be needed to listen. Offering your time to see someone can be one of the most valuable gifts.
  3. Do not engage in triangulation. If the other person wants to talk about someone else offer instead to go with them to talk to that other person.
  4. Do set boundaries with your emotions. Bringing emotion into the workforce shouldn’t create an environment where co-workers are uncomfortable.

Above all, keep feeling. Keep modeling compassion and empathy. These skills so-called “soft” skills are where loyal followers are uncovered and great leaders created. It is business…and it is personal. And that’s exactly how it should be.

If this is an area of leadership you’re struggling with, or you’d like advice on any aspect of your leadership journey, get in touch. We’re here to help.