New contributor: Jared Chambers, Pencil or Ink's Marketing Assistant, writes about emotion as a leadership tool. (The content of this post relates to his other job, at a growing startup.)

 

I had received an invitation for an all-hands meeting at my office. I was new to the company so wasn’t sure what the usual protocol was. I would soon find out that protocol for this type of meeting didn’t really exist. 

Our CEO cleared his throat, and I sat back with my little trough of snacks expecting him to launch into a rant about productivity or quarterly reviews.

Instead, he stepped down.

I was more surprised than shocked. I had only spoken to the man a few times, but he had about as much fire for our little company as a father at a little league game disagreeing with an umpire.

But there he was, letting it all go. He talked about his entire journey through life, finally landing on the start-up he ran as if he were Moses finally laying eyes on the holy land. Then, when he got to the end, when he really had to say goodbye, he broke down and cried.

Emotion in the office always plays a strange role. When I think of men in the office, I think of Don Draper, straightening his tie and harrumphing. The only measurement of emotion in Don’s life is the amount of alcohol currently in his bloodstream.

But Don Drapers don’t exist.

As such, seeing my boss break down in front of me was met with a twinge of discomfort. I was unused to seeing as anything but a stoic, hardened leader. The longer I thought about my initial reaction the more I thought about how big a problem that is.

My boss stepped to the side and he stood alone for only a moment before he was met with a sea of adoring employees shaking his hand, patting him on the back, and embracing him.

Although I was not among them, it was something to behold. It was true solidarity in a usually low-emotion setting. It made me consider the place of emotion in the office.

In my short career, I have dealt with it a lot. Once while working in television I was running teleprompter when the host of the show called up to the control room “Does the guy on prompter have Parkinsons?”

As it happens I have no serious illness; I was just very nervous. I learned later than he had been having a rough night for other reasons, and he apologized to me for his outburst. Even though I appreciated the gesture, it still left me feeling like an abused dog, who was afraid to get close to him again.

In leaders, there is healthy emotion and there is detrimental emotion. And a lot of what I have seen is detrimental. But there is always going to be emotion in the office.

You see your coworkers every day, five days a week. Often they become friends and sometimes something more. They know you. You can’t hide your emotions - they’ll notice. The key instead is turning your innate humanness into an effective tool for you. Rather than channeling a bad day into errant accusations of terminal illness, try to reach out and ask for help from others. Build trust, and use it to grow stronger relationships.

Seeing my CEO nearly carried out of the office on the shoulders of my coworkers was clearly an effective use of emotion, and it left me sitting on my swivel chair considering what had just happened.

He had been emotional and it had paid off. That was something that I hadn’t seen before, and certainly was not anything that happens in Mad Men. It was something far greater. In my CEO’s final moments leading the office he’d built, he chose to be vulnerable and let his trust and affection for his employees show.

He was honest, and I think that it was the most moving send-off that he could have asked for. Emotion can be a powerful tool and it’s been overlooked for too long.

I learned as I watched him go that it doesn’t have to be a terrible thing to let people in your office know how you really feel, because if I were a manager that’s all I would want from my employees.