In Part One of this series, I introduced the concept of emotional fitness for founders: an ongoing commitment to looking inward, processing through difficult emotions, and working toward self-awareness and self-improvement. But what does emotional fitness actually look like?
The following is a list of seven characteristics that emotionally fit leaders strive for. These are not traits to “achieve,” but rather, to work toward:
1 The capacity to identify and manage their own emotions. Emotionally fit leaders are self-reflective. They have taken the time to understand their triggers and biases and continuously check in with themselves. They are patient, resilient, and willing to be vulnerable with others. They can tolerate frustration and manage their affect. They understand that the feelings they have about others have a lot to do with their own selves.
2 The capacity to identify and tolerate the emotions of others. Emotionally fit leaders can (and do) put themselves in others’ shoes on a regular basis. They recognize that what they feel about things might not necessarily be what others feel, and they strive for empathy even when it is difficult. Although they must sometimes make unilateral decisions, they consider how those decisions will affect others.
3 The capacity to play. Play sparks spontaneity and creativity, and is a crucial part of emotional health and interpersonal cohesiveness. To play with an other means trying on thoughts or concepts to see how they feel. It means having a free exchange of ideas and a meeting of the minds. Emotionally fit leaders can and do engage in this type of interaction regularly, and encourage others to do the same.
4 The capacity to face and handle reality. Although being a founder sometimes necessitates a willful suspension of disbelief, emotionally fit leaders understand and tolerate the difference between what they want to be true and what is true. They have awareness of their limitations in affecting and changing others, and they endure this without denial or defeat.
5 The capacity to tolerate discomfort. Emotionally fit leaders can sit with and process through discomfort. They know they will survive it, and thus do not take impulsive or destructive action to escape it. They are able to have tough conversations, be transparent about uncomfortable information, share complicated feedback, and sit with a problem until it has been fully thought through.
6 The capacity to take criticism and feedback. Emotionally fit leaders know that more is learned from failure than success. They are not defensive (or recognize and can admit when they’re being defensive). They are willing to accept that they have blind spots, and give genuine consideration to points of view other than their own. They are secure in their own value, and thus do not need constant external validation.
7 The capacity to communicate effectively, even during disagreement. Emotionally fit leaders are able to put words to their needs and expectations. They understand that conflict within any relationship is co-created, and they are able to talk through issues rather than reacting with denial or exertion of power. They can balance flexibility with maintaining their authority and appropriate boundaries.
Continue on to Part Three, where I explore why emotional fitness is so imperative for founders and executives.
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