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5 Ways to Lead with Emotional Courage and Get the Best Out of People

To lead with emotional courage takes self-awareness, an essential trait for any leader. It also may be the most important skill to master, if you call yourself a leader. 

With self-awareness, you can probe your emotions in any given situation to understand what you’re feeling and why. This is key for understanding how to appropriately respond, rather than impulsively react to a situation going south.

It’s also key to leading with your own emotional courage. Before you do, I suggest enlisting other people to help you achieve true self-awareness by calling out your less favorable traits:

  • playing favorites with colleagues
  • being an inconsistent listener
  • steamrolling others with your own ideas
  • not asking for advice

True leadership requires courage — a willingness to peel back the onion and own your uglier layers. In doing so, you’ll create a safe space for your peers to help.

Now you’re ready

I have found that commitment to leading with emotional courage requires openness and vulnerability, being open to feedback, but also certain levels of curiosity and humility. Let’s explore each.

1. Openness and vulnerability

The pandemic forced leaders to embrace vulnerability and showcase a new level of humanity in the workforce. By sharing what you’re struggling with, asking for help, and being transparent, your team will follow suit — and together you can work toward creative solutions more effectively and efficiently.

What team members are looking for these days is a fully accessible human being as a leader. While always central to exceptional leadership, the pandemic created a crash course on how vulnerability and empathy should be guiding principles to your leadership style. Leaders were forced to understand and navigate how the pandemic impacted themselves and their teams. This led to self-disclosure and acting with compassion which, in turn, led to better results.

2. Being open to feedback

One of the toughest tests for the top-down leader is being open to feedback because this requires emotional intelligence. And both take a great deal of emotional courage to pull off. 

Good managers ask peers and respected individual contributors the tough question, “How am I doing as a manager?” And then they listen. They are interested in receiving honest feedback so they can grow further as leaders. 

As a manager, the key is acting on the feedback you receive. This shows employees you care about what they have to say. This sets the tone that if they come to you with issues, questions, or concerns, they’ll be heard, taken seriously, and addressed appropriately.

3. Curiosity

In 2019, Bill Gates spoke to students, parents, and alumni at his high school alma mater in Seattle. One question posed to Gates is especially noteworthy for the next working generation: “What are the skills today’s students need to know to thrive in the world of 2030 and 2040?” 

Gates stressed the critical importance of curiosity as a framework for acquiring knowledge. A growth mindset as the foundation and drive to stay curious and keep learning, said Gates, will help prepare future workers for the immense changes that will take place. 

Not only is curiosity key to the learning process, but it’s also great for overall life satisfaction, according to science. Several research studies suggest curious people have better relationships, connect better, and enjoy socializing more. In fact, other people are more easily attracted and feel socially closer to individuals that display curiosity.

4. Humility

We’re all attracted to confidence in leaders. But take one wrong step and we find arrogance.

This often misunderstood word first struck me in the context of leadership when Jim Collins mentioned it in his seminal book Good to Great.

Collins basically said that the best leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness.

These leaders, as Collins determined in his study, gain an edge through displaying both fierce professional will and extreme personal humility. This paradoxical mix creates superb financial results.

Clearly, these Fortune 500 leaders don’t walk inside board rooms having a low opinion of themselves or thinking of themselves as “meek” — another bad definition for humility.

As the saying goes, humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.

In essence, humble leaders achieve greatness without arrogance. They shift from ego to humility which can drastically alter the outcome to their advantage. 

Here are five things the humble leader does to lead with emotional courage:

1. Humble leaders give others credit

Leaders who deflect the limelight away from them and allow their teams to be in the limelight gain respect at an alarming rate. There is something very liberating for employees when they receive credit.

2. Humble leaders speak from the heart

Humble leaders refuse to cut corners and will speak their truth. They don’t say things to sugarcoat, to try to please others, or to try to look good in front of their peers. They don’t betray themselves or others by using words or making decisions that are not aligned with who they are. When they make a promise they do everything possible to fulfill it. The actions fit the words.

3. Humble leaders admit mistakes

Here are three magical words that will produce more peace of mind than a week’s worth of executive coaching with me:

4. Humble leaders are teachable

Leaders in healthy organizations gladly accept the role of learners. Because they know it will make them better. They know that each person has something important to teach them. The truth is, good leaders don’t always know what is needed and what to do. They ask questions and are sincerely interested in the answers. This is even more important if you’re a new manager with long-tenured employees who know more than you do. So it starts with being honest enough to say, “Help me so I can help you.”

5. Humble Leaders listen to understand first

Effective communication isn’t just about talking; it is also the ability to listen and understand what’s happening on the other side of the fence. Humble leaders will listen for meaning and understanding with the other person’s needs in mind. The listening has one key differentiator: how can I help this other person?

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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