There are times when we feel like our emotions are beyond our control. When we are under pressure, when we are engaged in an uncomfortable situation or conversation and internally we can feel our emotions rising. You can physically feel the change, it might be butterflies in the stomach, it could also be the red mist rising. There are other times when our emotions come on without warning, but it is how we manage this that is the mark of real leadership. Sometimes these emotions pass very quickly, at other times they can last longer, that feeling of frustration at a situation that should resolve so easily lingering on and triggering your emotions at the very thought of it. In reality, you have the ability to learn how to change your mood and regulate your emotional state which ultimately will enable you to choose which version of you shows up in any situation.
Whilst it is undeniable that there are many aspects to leadership, the most important element involves your interactions with people. The best leaders are able to build positive sustainable relationships that develop a culture of trust, respect and collaboration. They are able to fuel a positive climate in which those they serve feel supported, encouraged and emotionally safe. With work demands increasing, higher levels of accountability and a rapidly changing landscape, leaders who are able to manage their own emotions and master ‘version control’ as they interact with others are better equipped to deal with the pressure of leadership.
Most leaders are astute at paying attention to the emotional reactions of others. We watch their body language, we listen to their tone, we look for facial expressions and try to identify cues that give us insight as to how they are feeling about the situation they are in. What we often overlook though is the signals that we are giving and the way our emotional reactions are feeding into the interaction. There are occasions where there is an unintended negative spill from our previous environment that feeds into our present environment. In version control however you are able to strategically be prepared as you transition from one environment to the next.
One of the greatest challenges we all encounter in leadership positions is managing our own internal emotional state, especially in difficult situations. Our reactions, behaviours and decisions during this time set the platform for those we lead and create the climate we are trying to promote. Being able to manage your emotional state and determine what version of you is present at any given time even in the most challenging of situations is clearly something that is an incredibly powerful leadership skill. Like all skills though you need to practice, you need to understand how to use it and you need to recognise when you need to work harder at developing it.
It has often been said that you can’t control the way people feel, but you can control how you react to them. There are times in our day when we are interacting with people and it can be difficult to know which version you are interacting with. The colleague who walks past you without acknowledgement may be in the version of father with a sick child at home or the version of finance broker with a late mortgage payment who at that point in time does not feel like engaging with anyone. The colleague who snaps back at a seemingly reasonable request may have had an argument with their spouse, a sick pet and a relative in hospital. As a leader we need to be aware that not everyone has version control and whilst we don’t tolerate unacceptable behaviour we take time to understand it without passing judgment. In these circumstances, having a firm grasp on your version of you is crucial.
What we need to understand is that at certain points we can have a huge impact on those we lead and we need to ensure that we don’t miss the opportunity because we have not presented with the right version of ourselves. I’ve been interested in the work of Dr Adam Fraser who talks about the third space, the space when we transition from one environment to another. This is the time we have to check what version of ourselves will be entering the next interaction and how we can manage our emotional state to ensure it is the right version at the right time. The way we think about a situation can have an extremely powerful effect on your emotions which in turn guides your behaviours and decision making. As you would know it can be much harder to shift from below the line states of mind to above the line states of mind so being able to recognise and act is vitally important for those in leadership positions.
So how do you do it, how do you ensure version control is in place.
I think it is important to take a small amount of time just to centre yourself before you transition from one point to another. This does not have to be an exhaustive exercise, it could be as little as taking a few deep breaths as you leave one encounter to another. Doing this allows you to pause momentarily and check your state before you give yourself a chance to act or react.
Change the Image
Sometimes we have a negative image of how an interaction may play out which will impact on our thoughts and feelings that we carry into the interaction. We need to try to look from different perspectives to shift the image we are visualising.
Moving from one space to another provides you an opportunity to let go of your current state and provides a physical reminder to shift into the version you need. If you are not leaving the environment just standing up as a transition can be enough. Using this as a signal that you are transitioning and need to centre again can be all that is needed.
Reframe Self Talk
Change the internal dialogue and shift the language you use. In our transitions between one interaction to another we often have an internal conversation about what just happened or what might happen. The language we use will determine how we show up in the next interaction. Focussing on the positive rather than looking for what did not go well can have an enormous impact. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows but beating yourself up will not give you a different outcome to what has already occurred and will certainly limit your ability to show up in the right version.
Try paying attention to your feelings in different settings and when you’re with different individuals and groups. Monitoring your emotional state with different groups in different contexts allows you to develop crucial background information about what version you need to bring for the context you are entering.
Recognising how you are feeling and understanding your own behavioural styles are key to regulating your emotional state. If you are a conflict avoider recognising how conflict makes you feel prior to entering and managing it allows you to be more effective. If you become frustrated easily recognising your physical and emotional signals of frustration will allow you to regroup or implement a strategy that supports you to manage your frustration.
Focussing on version control and identifying how your thinking patterns can influence your interactions with others will allow you to foster the power of relationships. The ability to select the right version is a skill that will give you enormous emotional freedom and has the potential to have a significant impact on your leadership and the culture you establish. It does not mean that you will not have negative emotions or times when you question the purpose but it means that you are aware and can choose how you respond. I am also not suggesting that we have to regulate every emotion, there are many times when the emotional state you present in are appropriate for the context. Version control is not about suppressing your emotions, it’s about recognising them and understanding that you have control over them not they over you.
Managing your emotional state can be difficult at times but it is a skill that is well worth developing. Having the ability to reset and be focussed in every interaction allows you to be present and connect with those you are interacting with. Remember your version can be contagious, how you show up can have a significant impact on others. Being able to control the version of yourself in your interactions places you in a position of strength to build relationships and create the emotional safety that creates the positive trusting climate that allows others to thrive.