Yes, You’re Touchy Feely. Get Over It.

If I had a nickel for every time a leader or team said to me: “we’re not into the touchy feely stuff around here,” I’d own a vacation home or two.

If I had a dime for every time that same person or group engaged in activities and conversations that got real (a.k.a. “touchy-feely”), I’d own some vacation homes, a boat, and a private jet.

To wit, below are statements from workshop or team meeting evaluations I’ve received in response to a question such as: “What was the most impactful part of the day?”

  • “Great opportunity to talk to each other outside the workplace.”
  • “Being able to (really) listen to other colleagues’ ideas.”
  • “Building bridges with the other departments.”
  • “The last part where we each shared our personal commitments. Very powerful.”
  • “Getting to know my partners more closely.”
  • “Getting everyone together. The social aspects are as important as anything.”

Here’s the deal. Those statements come from people; our teams and our organizations cannot operate without people; and people operate through more than just their brains. Period.

“Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” – Vincent Van Gogh

I’m not suggesting that people need to share intimate details of their lives with colleagues. Nor am I suggesting that we ask people to “be emotional” or share how they feel just because.

I am suggesting this: a refusal to acknowledge the human dynamics and relationships of our teams doesn’t make you a stronger leader or a stronger team. In fact, just the opposite. Turning a blind eye to our humanness gets in the way of achieving goals.

I get that the soft topics are hard. I get that no one wants to go first. I get that it can be uncomfortable (hint: especially in environments when people make sweeping belittling statements about “touchy-feely”). What I see as the biggest obstacle is that people are afraid they won’t know how to handle what comes up. Frankly, this rarely becomes true; we are far more capable than we give ourselves credit for. We’re so afraid of that reality, though, we stop ourselves. The human dynamics then become the elephant in the room that desperately needs our attention.

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

As leaders, we cannot afford to promote or condone the attitude of “no touchy-feely stuff around here.” We ask our teams to deliver incredible results every day: to innovate, change, problem-solve, create, and otherwise move our organizations forward. That all happens with and through people. And whether we like it or not, every person operates daily with and through emotions. It’s simply part of our biology. Resistance is futile!

Setting a productive tone and dynamic around this starts at the top.

One of my favorite authorities on this is Dr. Brene Brown (a researcher who’s first TED talk is one of the top 10 most-watched talks). She writes: “Contrary to the myth of the “all-knowing-all-powerful” leader, inspired leadership requires vulnerability. Do we have the courage to show up, be seen, take risks, ask for help, own our mistakes, learn from failure, lean into joy, and can we support the people around us in doing the same?”

In other words, can you be with the touchy-feely stuff?

Here are some steps that will help you consider how you can incorporate this necessary element of leadership into your goals this year:

  1. Bring to mind the most important goal you have for yourself or for your team in 2015.
  2. Assume you have access to all the resources you need to accomplish the goal: people, financial, time and so on.
  3. With all those resources at hand, what are the team or personal dynamics that must be present to reach this goal? Identify two qualities. (Hint: if you’re having a hard time coming up with something, think about the last time you or your team missed a goal. What would have made the difference?)
  4. Ask yourself: How can I, as leader, ensure these qualities are present? What will stop me from demonstrating them? What will stop others from demonstrating them? How can I create an environment that allows these qualities to be present?
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