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Professional Intimacy: The Key to Being a Sustainable Leader

By Christina Haxton (1786 words)
Posted in Leadership & Teambuilding on July 7, 2013

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By Christina HaxtonMA LMFT Speaker, Author & Executive Coach, Sustainable Leadership, Inc.

The words you choose as a leader, or in any position of influence, shape the identity of others and as a result their decisions and actions. Successful business owners and senior managers are able to communicate in a way that is authentic and inspiring, not only shaping positive results, but also creating an environment where employees feel satisfied, happy and excited to come to work each day. This article is written for senior leaders who happen to be women.  However, my executive coaching clients who are of the male persuasion tell me they (sometimes secretly) find this advice extraordinarily relevant and helpful when it comes to being a successful, Sustainable Leader.


It’s common knowledge in business what is required in order to be considered a “strong leader” or “respected boss”, however leaders who are women find the ingredients to be a successful leader somewhat, ok extraordinarily, hypocritical.


Do any of these Rules You Need to Follow To Be a Respected Leader sound familiar?  If you have ever followed them mindlessly, no worries, because what’s admitted here stays here, okay?


“Leave your feelings at the door when you come to work …”


“Don’t let them see you sweat …”


“Strong men are authoritative.  Strong men are respected.  You need to act like a man to get respect around here.  Oh, and by the way, when you act like a “strong man” you will be called a b***h!”


Wait, keep following these rules and it will get worse, not better …


Did I mention the stress you will feel as a result of pretending or faking it … “acting as if” how you are showing up is who you really are and is in alignment with what you believe you need to be…to be successful?


Unfortunately, when you pretend to feel one way and act another, you will quickly be perceived by others as distant, inauthentic and untrustworthy.  Probably not what you are going for …


And most definitely not a recipe for a Sustainable, built to last leader.  Follow these old rules long enough and you will burn up or burn out before you can say “Corporate Refugee.”


How can you be woman AND a leader who is confident, authentic and respected by others when you believe that saying what you are REALLY thinking and feeling might get you demoted, fired or whispered about behind your back?


Here’s the good news:  It’s about time we throw out the outdated “Rules.”  Successful leaders are rule breakers.  Like them or not, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Sheryl Sandberg were not afraid to break the rules and ultimately experience the freedom and relief that comes from breaking the rules and refusing to pretend any longer. 


Because leadership success IS about professional intimacy and building trust in others with whom you are in a relationship … this applies whether you are a man or a woman, or you are referring to your customer, your mail room person or your biggest shareholder.


As a business owner, a leader, you have a unique opportunity to show up as authentic and caring and be remembered as a “Best Boss.”  And as a senior manager, a leader, you have the responsibility to act in a way that models for your team the courage it takes to refuse to “go along to get along.”  And by doing so, you will be remembered as a “Best Boss” and “Inspiring Leader” who is authentic and has a team who also feels satisfied, happy and excited to come to work each day.


Here are 3 Steps to Professional Intimacy:  The key to being a Sustainable Leader.  It is time to take inspired action and become built to last for the long haul, from the inside out and the outside in!

  • Connection
  • Curiosity
  • Communication


1.     Connection – Know thyself.  

How would you answer the following questions?

Who am I? 

Where am I going?

Why am I going there?


Your detailed answers to these questions will serve as your directional signpost.  When you are acting and making decisions with your answers in mind, you feel more at ease, congruent, in alignment – and connected to what is most important for you to have in your life.  These are your “non-negotiables.”   It’s critical you know them, remind yourself of them constantly.  By doing so, difficult decisions will become much easier to make and won’t feel so difficult after all.


2.     Curiosity

The opposite emotion of fear is curiosity (add a bit more intensity and you feel excited).  We are hard-wired to work harder to avoid pain than to seek pleasure.  Yet ironically we will more readily and easily perceive threats in our environment than assume we are safe.  Add a little more stress to the situation and we quickly interpret even neutral comments as “negative.”  And, to make matters a little worse, our brain is constantly seeking to make connections, to predict the future and to “know” or feel certain.  By the way, the term “control freak” ought to be changed to “certainty freak” to be most accurate. 


Why does this matter?  First, specialized neurons in our brain (mirror neurons) allow us to “pick up on vibes” or feel how another person is feeling.   Therefore, stress and negative emotions (or threats) are like a bad cold, and are contagious.  When you mindlessly and automatically pick up on an employee’s stress vibe and react to it, the perception of “threat” is contagious and like herpes, can become the “gift” that keeps on giving.  Not.


What’s important about knowing curiosity is the opposite emotion of fear and emotions are contagious?  When you are aware you can be in control and capable of manually shifting the emotion of fear to curiosity in the conversation.  And in Step #3, you will see how you can “neutralize” the negativity and create a conversation of possibilities rather than defensiveness and excuses.


3.     Communication

Watch your language!  Remember your worst boss … Remember what he or she did or said that makes you think of him or her as “worst.”  Now think about how long ago that memory was created.  It left a deep and memorable “brain groove.”  Now remember your “Best Boss.”  What makes that person the best in your book?  Likely it was something he or she said to you.  Don’t be surprised if the “Worst Boss” memory felt stronger, more immediately available.  Congratulations, your human brain is hard wired to recall a painful experience more readily and easily than a pleasurable one.


“We create our reality in conversation …” This is true for two types of conversations:  The conversation that goes on inside our head, as well as the one we have with others.  As a therapist for over 20 years, I helped hundreds of people change their “perceptions” or “reality” from negative and hopeless, to positive and hopeful.  It’s a very different energy – one pulls and one pushes.   As a result of using conversation to change stories (call it therapy, counseling or coaching), I have witnessed many hundreds of people who have rather quickly changed their outcomes, their futures, their lives and the lives of others in a positive ripple effect. 


Our language shapes our stories, which literally changes our brain, creates our identity and dictates our actions.  Because of this, the words you choose as a leader in a position of influence shapes the identity of others and as a result their decisions and actions. 


Professional Intimacy is the combination of these three steps:

  1. Connection – Know myself, what motivates and inspires me and my “strong WHY” for doing what I am doing.

  2. Curiosity – Leverage the power of emotions to challenge your assumptions and adjust course.  Especially when it comes to “following THE RULES.”

  3. Communication – Have the courage to have the conversation … it’s your responsibility as a leader, as a person who is in a position to use influence to create value.  Remember practice makes perfect.  And makes “fierce conversations” easier and easier to have.  Use questions to invite others to explore possibilities.  Shut up and listen.  Really listen (here comes curiosity again). 


Now imagine yourself as that “Best Boss.”


What does this have to do with being a Sustainable Leader or “built to last leader?”  Here’s a bonus.  In Dr. Dan Siegel’s research, a neuroscientist who specializes in attachment, when we connect with others with COAL (Caring, Openness, Appreciation & Love), both parties receive the direct benefit of connection and recharging, which builds our resilience and the ability to bounce back and thrive through challenge.  Not a bad deal!  Think of the implications for yourself, your team…


It seems to me that many of us spend more time at work than we do at home.  Every conversation we have is an opportunity to develop ourselves and others.  And, the good news is practice makes perfect!


Which of these steps do you already take?  What results have you experienced?  Which action step will be your next?


“It is in relationships we learn and grow … and in conversations we create reality.” – Christina Haxton

{#/pub/images/Christina_Haxton.jpg}Written by Christina Haxton, MA LMFT
Speaker, Author & Executive Coach, Sustainable Leadership, Inc.
Co-author, The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a leadership revolution one person at a time.  Christina assists entrepreneurs, managers and executives how to quickly build trust with their team and feel happier, highly successful and satisfied in their leadership role. Her clients learn how to use  neuroscience of emotional intelligence to make powerful team connections to become successful leaders, to achieve extraordinary peace of mind, begin to really love what they do again and have fun in the process!


Do you have a question for Christina?  Please visit our Senior Manager Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert 


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in:

4 Essential Skills for Leaders, Managers & High Potentials

Complacency in the Workplace

Work Efficiency Equation For Managers And High Performers

3 Communication Techniques To Lead Effective Conversations

Curiosity: Asking the Right Questions to Motivate, Manage & Lead


ManagingAmericans.com is a community of Business Professionals & Expert Consultants sharing knowledge, success tips and solutions to common job issues.  Our objective is to mentor and develop professionals to be better leaders, managers, team players and individual contributors. Ultimately, helping people succeed in their careers.  

Comments (2)

bloggerpalooza posted on: July 15, 2013

I am very agree with your statement that, it is about professional intimacy and building trust in others with whom you are in a relationship. The members are admiring the leaders who can give them a comfort zone in works. Where freedom of actions, suggestion and compliments has. The true effective management generates good collaboration of workers without forgetting the objectives of all jobs.

ek posted on: May 22, 2019

Christina I was so with you... why on earth did you have to make a herpes joke.

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