Why Real Leaders Cry

Last Updated Jan 19, 2011 12:08 PM EST


I admit it: As a passionate CEO, I sometimes get choked up and teary. It usually happens when I'm in front of my employees and think of all the people I've put to work, and how proud I am of them. Having started Blinds.com from my garage, it's humbling and satisfying to think I've made a difference in others' lives -- not just enabling them to make a good living, but helping them build skills and autonomy. And the appreciation I have for so many people sometimes can be overwhelming.

That's why I didn't think twice about the fact that our new Speaker of the House is a crier. He's a passionate guy, and proud of where's he's been and now what he's achieved.

Showing emotion in front of your subordinates is not tantamount to showing weakness, as others have suggested. We all want our leaders to be authentic and candid. Do you want a military officer crying while leading you through battle? Certainly not. On the other hand, if that officer sees his troops demoralized and maimed from a horrible defeat, maybe then remorse and crying is acceptable.

In the book, Emotional Intelligence, author John Goleman makes the case for "emotional intelligence" (E.I.) as the strongest indicator of human success. We usually define E.I. as the mastery of our emotions -- and not allowing ourselves to make less than objective, rational decisions. But Goleman defines E.I. as self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved by friends. Surely, great leaders have great emotions -- and they must be able to self-regulate.

Still, if we entrepreneurs are to be honest with our employees, showing people how we feel lets them know we have compassion and that we make decisions not just from a spreadsheet, but from the heart.

Here are some other reasons why showing emotion at work makes for a more effective leader:

1) People follow those who they believe have conviction for a cause, and merely telling someone you care isn't enough. Emotions prove beyond words how one feels.

2) Allowing your emotions to show reveals you as a fragile, vulnerable, and more approachable person. Since almost everyone has some feelings of inadequacy, by showing your emotions, others are able to relate and feel closer to you.

3) Letting your guard down shows you don't have all the answers, so when you ask for help people know you're sincere and are much more likely to respond.


What do you think: Is it OK to get emotional in front of your staff, or do you think a more stoic, detached approach is better?

Photo courtesy of Flickr, by Daveynin

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    Jay Steinfeld is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, the industry leader in online window blinds sales. He is an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. His company was named Best Place to Work in Houston, won the American Marketing Association's Marketer of the Year, and Steinfeld was named by the Houston Chronicle as Houston's top CEO in the under-150 employee category for the last 2 years.