For more than two decades, Chip Conley was the CEO of Joie de Vivre, the boutique hotel company he founded and grew into the second-largest in the U.S. But when his life was rocked several years ago by tragedy (including the suicide of several close friends and the breakup of a longtime relationship), he discovered that embracing emotion – and sharing his story with others – could also make him a better leader. “CEOs and other leaders are ‘chief emotions officers,’” says Conley. “If I can be honest, vulnerable, and authentic in my way of presenting myself, inside my company and out, it’s a helpful tool for others to understand that everybody goes through difficult times.”
The result of Conley’s quest to learn from his experiences is Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness and Success, his story of how he found emotional wisdom through creating unique mathematical formulas (his first, inspired by eminent psychologist Viktor Frankl, is “despair = suffering – meaning”). “I was in a rough place and what I liked about equations is they’re concise and practical problem-solving tools,” says Conley. Understanding the equation helps you determine how to fix the problem – so, for instance, you can decrease despair in your life by finding a way to increase your sense of meaning (e.g., by spending time working on a cause you care about).
Emotional Equations counsels executives to be more honest with themselves (and others) about what they’re feeling and to make changes in their lives where appropriate. Conley sees three key advantages to being an emotionally open leader. First, it cuts off the negative cycle that arises when people perceive their leaders as being on a pedestal. “The more we create a divide between our public image and our private reality, the more we create dysfunction,” says Conley. “If you think your boss is above emotions, above having any difficult times…then it’s going to make you feel like that’s what you’re going to have to be. And if people feel like they can’t do it, it diminishes their ability to live up to their potential.”
Next, it helps employees tap into what they love about their jobs. “Money and recognition are fine – but at the end of the day, it’s a bartering relationship between a company and their employee,” says Conley. “Meaning is what gives people a sense of calling and if you can create an environment in which more people are living a sense of calling in what they do, there’s a much more likely chance you’re going to have an inspired organization.” It’s a lot easier to do that when your employees don’t feel they have to leave their “real selves” at the door.
Finally, says Conley, “What I didn’t expect was the fact that in the worst of times, a certain amount of power came to me by being authentic and vulnerable. It helped me and it helped others be vulnerable with me.” Your own personal disclosures or vulnerability builds a bond of trust with employees. After all, people may want a stoic leader in times of crisis – but, says Conley, “command-and-control leadership is a very 100-yard dash mentality,” and running a business is more like a marathon. Over the long term, what employees really want is “to feel their opinion is well-respected, and feel the people they work with are human beings.”
What are your strategies to become more emotionally open as a leader? How has it impacted your workplace?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.