The blurred line of emotional control

Where does vulnerability fit into being a Rock for my team?

Growing up in an Italian household there was one guarantee every day – a hearty dinner. Food was critical in our place. No matter who was there, how many were there, or what type of day anyone had, we always knew a good dinner was going to be served up every night. It was reassuring and a privilege you only acknowledge as being special when you are all grown up. My parents worked hard to provide that experience for themselves and our family. But it was mum that cooked every day – the kitchen was her domain. And, no matter how well she was, how busy she was, or the troubles she may have been facing, not once did we go without a good home cooked evening meal.

On reflection this consistency was driven by the heart but executed with amazing resilience. It was an act of service, and therefore an act of leadership that allowed us all to work, study, and play better. A great platform was provided for each of us to progress what we were doing.

Are our team’s any different in the workplace?

If we manage our people inconsistently, or catastrophise at the hint of trouble, then how does this effect our team’s performance? Sam Walker uses the term “The Kill Switch” in his book The Captain Class, one of the references for the Leadership Behaviours Masterclass I run. Walker is referring to a person’s ability to switch off the effect adversity has on them, and therefore enabling them to support team performance. He discusses Dr Richard Davidson’s decades of research on the science behind people’s ability to “Reframe Adversity” to create positive narratives for themselves no matter how bad a situation is.

Dr Richard Davidson's research in    neuroplasticity    has been ground breaking (   )

Dr Richard Davidson's research in neuroplasticity has been ground breaking (

But, how do we remain authentic and display our vulnerability as leaders if we need to numb ourselves from feeling anything bad? Aren’t we meant to express how we feel to our team to create connection? This is the dilemma many find difficult to approach on the topic of Leadership Emotional Control.

Heavy right?

The answer is in where we place our attention and what will be of use to the people in our team.

Robert K Greenleaf founded Servant Leadership back in the 1970’s, with a huge range of research on this leadership concept being done since. It says that the Leader is at the bottom of the pyramid instead of the traditional top; a leader serves their people, not the other way around. An easy idea to understand where the focus is wholly on what their people need to perform. It is an Attention Out way of thinking instead of Attention In.

Servant Leadership has countless studies behind it showing the effects it has on team performance. Source:

Servant Leadership has countless studies behind it showing the effects it has on team performance. Source:

This creates a good base for using mindful language, timing, and content of our vulnerability. An example may be when a major account threatens to pull out or a shipment of product is heavily delayed at sea. Which option below is going to help the team better?

Option 1: I have no idea what to do. I am panicking. I hope one of you can save us here”.


Option 2: “This is a real problem. I can’t say I saw it coming, and it’s going to be tough, but I reckon we can find a way”.

Both are honest, show vulnerability, but the key is that Option 2 reframes the adversity. It gives the team an immediate focus and Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck) to tackle the challenge at hand, rather than wallow in despair.

If you are like me and not good at this naturally, the good news is that we can develop it through practices such as mediation and by simply being aware. Knowing this and practicing it at every opportunity is the key. Knowing the impact our emotional control has on the performance of others and eventual results is powerful. Start practicing today. Seriously. Right now. Go. Please stop reading….