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Opening up

‘Embrace your inner Sharer’: leaders should not be afraid to talk about fears and anxieties, says a Harvard Business Review article co-authored by Dr Jochen Menges of Cambridge Judge Business School.

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The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has posed plenty of challenges for managers, so which type of leader was most effective in building resilient teams during the crisis? A new Harvard Business Review article co-authored by Dr Jochen Menges of Cambridge Judge Business School found that ‘sharers’ who openly acknowledged their fears, stresses and other negative emotions were more successful than “heroes” who focused only on the positive or “technocrats” who ignored their emotions to focus solely on results.

The article examines how leaders handle their own emotional struggles at work, following invitations sent to 30 leaders of global corporations from the US and UK to keep weekly journals for four weeks in May and June 2020. The journal-writers were asked to reflect on three questions:

  • What is emerging for you?
  • What are you finding you need?
  • What are you letting go of?”

“Without exception, every leader in our study described major emotional turmoil,” the authors say, yet significant differences emerged as to how they responded to these challenges – resulting in the ‘sharer’, ‘hero’ and ‘technocrat’ tags.

“While there are pros and cons to every leadership style, we found that sharers were particularly successful in building cohesive, high-performing teams that were resilient in the face of the myriad challenges posed by the pandemic,” says the article. Analysing the three types of leaders, the article found that “technocrats and heroes aren’t as heroic as they seem” – as a hero’s leadership style can make team members feel distant, while a technocrat who ignores emotions can undermine their mental health.

The article offers six ways for leaders to ’embrace your inner sharer’:

  1. Self-reflect by tracking your emotions with a daily temperature check.
  2. Start small by admitting a minor frustration.
  3. Plan disclosures in advance instead of ‘aimless venting’.
  4. Create dedicated time and space for sharing emotions.
  5. Model effective emotion regulation for employees.
  6. Share both the good and the bad.

“Even when we’re not in the midst of a global pandemic, negative emotions are a fact of life,” the article concludes. “The most effective leaders are those who don’t push those emotions under the rug, but who instead openly and honestly acknowledge the challenges they face — and invite their employees to do the same.”

The Harvard Business Review article – entitled “Leaders, don’t be afraid to talk about your fears and anxieties” – is co-authored by Dr Lauren Howe, Assistant Professor in Management at the University of Zurich; Dr Jochen Menges, University Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at Cambridge Judge Business School and Professor of Leadership and Human Resource Management at the University of Zurich; and John Monks, Co-Founder of business consultancy Curve.