The unpleasant emotions of Leadership

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Leaders are supposed to have the answers. They’re supposed to be confident, self-assured, and knowledgeable. They’re supposed to know where they are and where they’re going at all times.

But the thing is: leadership is, as much as anything, an emotional adventure.

If you want to be a powerful leader, you have to become familiar with the sweat-inducing, anxiety-producing, adrenaline-generating emotions of being lost while people are following you. Because that is, as often as not, the emotion of leadership.

One of the defining characteristics of strong leaders is their ability to endure uncertainty and ambiguity. They are willing to move through shame and embarrassment and anxiety and fear. Those are the feelings of leadership as much as courage and persistence and faith. In fact, it’s because those feelings are ever-present that we need courage and persistence and faith.

It takes tremendous confidence to lead. Not the confidence of having all the answers — that’s arrogance — but the confidence to move forward even without the answers. You have to be capable of feeling awkward and uncertain without giving up. You have to believe that you and your team have what it takes to see yourselves through — or, if need be, to pick yourselves up and start again.

Here’s what not to do: pretend you’re in control. Because that erodes trust, increases your shame, and robs those around you of the opportunity to step in, learn, and help.

Below is a TEDx talk by Peter Bregman about these unpleasant emotions of leadership and how we can use them to become better leaders and increase innovation:


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