Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Walking on Emotional Eggshells

Written by: on October 23, 2013

Imagine with me the following scenario. You are part of a large organization. The organization has transitioned from an iconic longtime leader to a young, take-the-bull-by-the-horns leader who is working to revitalize it. There is a huge pressure to bring about health change to an organization that was stagnated and dying. Signs were hopeful, change was happening. You have recommended to the top leadership a new associate who is your friend. They hire him.

In a staff meeting the leader begins to speak about the new hire, your friend. He is not present. But the leader expresses doubts and discontent with your friend. You feel it is not about his professional skills but a personality dislike. There have been no altercations. There has been no slack in your friend’s work habits. Just an expression of the “affect” of this person. What has just happened is not about leadership skills, but the emotional state of the leader. You are angered and get defensive. You feel this is not the place for this discussion. You feel the new hire’s success is dependent upon good working conditions with these people. What becomes explicit is “hidden irrational forces” in the organizational leadership.

This was not just imagined this was my experience and the beginning of frustration with the emotional climate in a church I previously worked at. My friend did continue to work for three years and proved his abilities. But then suddenly was let go. We felt that we were walking on emotional eggshells, not quite sure of what the leader desired. There was something more going on than just competencies. It had everything to do with the leadership emotional climate.

The book called The Leadership Mystique by Manifred Ket Devries discussed the emotional processes that are a part of every leader and every organization. He asks, “What is your CCRT?” This is the Core Conflictual Relationship Theme that is at the heart of repetitive relationship difficulties. A person’s central theme of her or him’s life is a “wish in the context of relationship.” What was the leader expressing to his team? He wanted leaders whose emotional affect was deemed positive to him. His wish in the context of relationship was driven by his CCRT. Was he wrong? Devries evaluates leadership from a different perspective. It has to do with the emotional intelligence of the leader and the leaders that work with him or her.

Devries points out that leaders need to be aware of their CCRT as they navigate change. He states that the leader must do three things well. The leader must know his or her emotions, learn to manage those emotions and learn to recognize and deal with the emotions of others. (p.25) Devries examines the emotional processes of leadership and organizations involved in change. In his book he uses emotional intelligence as a lens for organizational change.

Change is necessary in any organization to keep it healthy and alive. What kind of change is needed depends the context and the internal character of the organization. No change happens without confronting those things that stand in the way of organizational strength. Change does not happen without some discomfort. Without some positive stress organizations tend to atrophy. How does one create the stress needed in order to do this? Devries states, “Let everyone know that hanging on to the present will create problems.” He points out that there always needs to be some stress of discomfort. Frederick Douglass said, “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” Great leaders overcame huge obstacles. Those obstacles had to be faced and challenged. They made them the leaders they became. We all need something to push against. Without that push we will find ourselves and our organizations in places that we do not want. Being aware of the emotional processes that bring about change and the emotional state as one leads is vital for change to go well.

Devries uses a four step process to help with change and the emotional climate it produces. They are:

  1. Creating a shared mindset.
  2. Changing behavior.
  3. Building competencies.
  4. Improving performance. pp. 152-153

The first one I will speak to for this case. Creating a shared mindset is crucial to develop a culture of change. The shaping of ones personal leadership is an emotional intentional process. The shaping of an organization that has to change is also.  There has to be enough discomfort created to change. Discomfort can be a positive motivation to change. Like the expression, “Be the change you want to see.” But as one moves forward, the discomfort has to be measured and reasoned. The first step is to, with the best information that a leader has, identify the needs of the organization and make them clear. Create a big “Why.” Then make it specific. Share it with a few trusted leaders that are respected. As one makes it public, teach for the why. Train for the why. Recruit for the why.

It is important to reframe the cultural guidelines for people to embrace the change. The leader helps to reframe what is essential and even what is threatening to the organization. The process must be inspired by vision and core values. Employees have to be shown how change meets the needs of those affected. Then define the boundaries of the change process. Lastly, align crucial players behind the vision of the vision and place the appropriate architectural framework in place in order to implement the new vision. (151)

Back to my beginning story. What was missing in this leadership frustration? Honesty was there. Being open and candid was important. But a wider lens needed to be used. The leader was doing his best to create a shared mindest in his employees. I think, before the hiring of my friend, the leader needed to express that mindest more clearly. But Devries states the emotional icebergs that exist beneath the mindset are difficult to know and express. There were many, many CCRTs going in the room and conversations before the meeting. What I and my friend would experience is, the emotional collateral of an organization in change and the emotional drives that are difficult to manage in that change. In the middle of change clarity about the why was ambiguous as well as the expectations of the leader. What became apparent for both my friend and I was the emotional climate became increasingly difficult to navigate. I am sure we had our own emotional eggshells (CCRTs) that were unclear to us as well.

What did you see happening here? Can you read into what was happening and perhaps something that I missed?

About the Author

Fred Fay

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