There’s a well-known saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup. The meaning behind these words often hits home for leaders responsible for others’ professional well-being and success. If you’re carrying wounds you haven’t healed, it will impact your leadership style and abilities. And not in a way you’ll feel good about.
As a boss, your words, actions, and even body language influence the performance of your team. Those in positions of power shouldn’t be held to a standard of perfection. However, something as simple as a curt remark can stir negative feelings about the company’s culture. Your direct reports might even take your behaviors personally, losing confidence in their abilities and commitment to the organization.
When you have unhealed wounds, you’re more likely to express what’s unspoken inside you in unhealthy ways. Everyday stress may seem unmanageable, as though one more request from someone will send you over the edge. It’s not a place you want to get to, and it’s why healing is so critical to becoming an effective leader. Here are some ways self-awareness of past traumas can enhance your leadership skills.
You Understand What Drives Human Behavior
When people join an organization, they may have different motivations. But there’s usually something about the company that aligns with what drives them. If a business is about making a difference, someone motivated by the same principle will find the organization attractive.
This desire gets them through the door, but the relationship they develop with their leader determines whether they stay. A poor-quality relationship can cause an employee to lose their initial enthusiasm and the connection they feel to the company. And poor-quality relationships usually come from a lack of trust, communication, and understanding.
Leaders whom others can’t trust are tough to follow. People don’t know where they stand or whether they’re safe bringing their authentic selves to work. When you have unhealed emotional wounds beneath the surface, it can lead to untrustworthy behaviors. Maybe you’re driven by a need to please to avoid upsetting others. You might agree with whatever people say at the time but change tack later, resulting in conflicting messages and a lack of clear direction.
Angel Mehta, an early stage tech-investor and former CEO of Sterling-Hoffman Executive Search, recognizes the role unhealed emotions play in human behavior. “Plenty of entrepreneurs are driven by the ghost of a parent or even a culture they want approval from. Emotional healing is about coming face-to-face with that ghost so it doesn’t exert so much power over your behavior.” Building better relationships as a leader starts with understanding where your expectations are coming from.
Your Long-Term Results Improve
The evidence suggests that leaders who take a long-term strategic approach boost their companies’ performance. Doing so adds to the organization’s profits, but it also requires leaders to address the needs of all stakeholders. These stakeholders include employees who make significant contributions to a business’s success.
To think out into the future, those leading a company need to be present. Your presence includes both emotional and physical aspects. If you’re not feeling well, your state of mind can remove you from the day-to-day happenings at your company. Your line of thinking becomes cloudy and focused on quick fixes. Unresolved feelings from emotional wounds could also distort your perception or consume your thoughts.
When you’re not truly present, you may be unable to address the needs of your team. It’s not because you’re unwilling to give, but because you lack the capacity to meet others halfway. Absorbed by your own inner turmoil, you are less able to see the big picture.
Worse still, when the emotional effects of trauma aren’t dealt with, they can manifest as physical symptoms. You might experience more headaches, fatigue, and other ailments that make concentrating difficult. Being more susceptible to stress could also impact your immune system, increasing your vulnerability to viral-based illnesses. When that happens, physical sickness can create literal distance between yourself and your employees. Taking care of yourself first ensures you can be physically and emotionally present for your team.
You Can Support Your Employees’ Well-Being
Four out of 10 U.S. employees say their jobs have an extremely or somewhat negative impact on their mental health. While this undesired effect can come from the job itself, it’s often because of office politics. The company’s culture and the individual’s relationships with co-workers have more bearing.
Employees who say their mental well-being is fair or poor miss an average of 11.8 workdays in a year. Compare this with team members who report good to excellent mental health. On average, they only have 2.5 unplanned absences. Missed time from work affects everyone at the company, especially as leaders ask those who show up to do more.
If your own mental well-being isn’t in a good place, creating a healthy environment for your team is challenging. Despite your efforts, people will notice something’s off. And overcompensating for your malaise with unrealistic expectations and increased demands will only burn your employees out more quickly.
When you prioritize your mental health, you set an example for your team. You also foster an environment where recognizing the need for self-care doesn’t come with stigmas or strings attached. Your ability to identify and address signs of burnout will help you give your employees a more supportive, enjoyable workplace.
Becoming a better leader starts with you. Making strides takes an honest assessment of how your past shapes who you are and your present behaviors. Your ghosts don’t have to haunt you or your team as long as you’re willing to look them in the face.