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The upside to emotion


Create a Winning Culture

As consultants, we spend a lot of time working with athletes on consistency and confidence. Which many times means detaching from the emotion associated with action. For instance, if an athlete makes an error, then he or she trains to remain composed and not be drawn into past action with high emotions such as anger or frustration. Many times, an athlete has the misconception that emotions can be controlled, which may be true in some cases, but the majority of the time we must help the athlete differentiate the control over emotion versus the control over response. The athlete’s very first instinct might be to get upset when he or she makes a mistake, however it doesn’t mean a response that matches the emotion must be generated. In fact, it is quite the opposite, acknowledge the error, acknowledge the emotion, but CHOOSE the response. Essentially, we train the response leading to improved emotional regulation. From this training though there is some danger, and that is that one might deduce that emotions are unwanted or unwelcome or even have a negative connotation.


However, leaders can protect against this danger, and create a safe space for emotional expression of athletes. We all know that emotions are linked directly with vulnerability. Effective leaders must be willing to become vulnerable themselves first. In the past, vulnerability may have been thought of as weak, therefore often traditional industrial style leaders were unwilling to become vulnerable and reveal emotions unless instilling fear. But what if vulnerability is a key component to organizational development?


Follow this train of thought for just a moment. When a leader shows vulnerability, it reveals the human side, and allows others to see him or her as such, inviting a sense of trust. If the environment becomes viewed as a safe space to be vulnerable, others in the organization feel safe to follow suit. Trust creates buy-in. Buy-in is an autonomous choice, which is a factor of motivation that compels individuals to develop themselves and relationships with others. These are two key components for motivation, autonomy and relatedness, that drive the success of an organization. Whereas a lack of vulnerability leads to ineffective leadership and therefore degradation of the organization. It all starts with leadership, requiring them to be the example. Athletes desiring to become good leaders must also be willing to be vulnerable.


So how do we incorporate emotions and or vulnerability into the performance realm? First, be willing to acknowledge or own mistakes in productive ways to improve the process. Don’t allow ego to get in the way, there is no such thing as perfection. Second, allow athletes to be open about the areas of growth they desire. This can sometimes be mislabeled as weaknesses, but in all reality, every weakness can be reframed as an opportunity for growth. Encourage the athlete to develop in these areas, rather than avoid out of fear they may be perceived in a certain way and risk losing out on valuable playing time. Third, actively listen and use open ended questions such as ones that start with HOW instead of WHY. This invites others into the conversation, allowing their input, and their voice to be expressed instead of being shut down or becoming defensive. When we can express our voice and feel heard, we feel valued again feeding the buy-in and building trust. Lastly, choose the appropriate time to incorporate these philosophies. It might be best to be incorporated during practice environments, team meetings, team building events, and in a recap following the performance (not in the high-performance moment itself). Effective leaders create a safe space and time for vulnerability. The upside to emotion is that it possesses the power to create a winning culture.

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