People who are expressive tend to be upbeat and communicate in an open and lively manner.
In a previous life, I was a band director. If you’ve ever been involved in any fall school activity in a Midwestern high school, you know that “Senior Night” is a big night at the football game, especially for senior band members, cheerleaders, and football players.
In 2009, I experienced my last Senior Night as a band teacher, and I approached that night with such mixed feelings; I was excited for my next career move (justifiably so; life as a leadership and team development professional is also quite rewarding), but quite sad to be having another “last” in a career that was my first love.
The students and their parents, though, had no idea I was “leaving them” at the end of the year, so I had to keep my emotions in check; stay calm, keep the focus on the kids, and be detached. That was my coping mechanism. And I over-compensated that night.
We had to cancel; there had been rain, and it was very cold, so we would have sunk in the mud, torn up the field even more (bands can damage a field more than cleats sometimes), and sounded terrible, because instruments aren’t made to be in tune at 38 degrees.
Because I kept my emotions so much in check, I seemed dismissive and uncaring to those seniors. “We have to cancel. That’s the way it is. Sorry.” I showed no emotion, no empathy, even though I was torn up inside. They were mad, and felt let down. Not because of the cancellation, but because I seemed so ambivalent to them.
They needed more. They needed to see me expressive in that moment, and I blew it.
How did the Small Business Saturday team remain expressive?
I’m fortunate to know Yera Ha, a spirited junior member of the M Booth corporate team. One way Yera has worked to get involved in the whole enterprise has been to speak more to issues of diversity and inclusion. In any firm, this can be a tough task for a new, young, junior member.
Enter VP Moon Kim, who has served as Yera’s direct manager on several accounts. Moon, as well as Matt Hantz (remember him, from the posts about clarity?), noted this passion and got involved. Yera says, “Moon helped me understand that being open and frank about issues and ideas are great, but it’s just as important to create a solution or plan to address them.”
Yera goes on, “Being expressive is one of Moon’s main traits. She’s always ‘on’. I really admire that about her and it’s something I aspire to. She’s optimistic, but she also can turn things into a plan.”
Yera reports that Matt and Moon spearheaded a VP-level committee, and had the opportunity to sit in to see Moon get expressive on diversity and inclusion firsthand. “Moon can work with a fragile and sensitive area. She’s optimistic, and challenging things are easier to hear when they come from her because of her upbeat, positive attitude. She tells stories – enthusiastic and expressive stories – and soon people are nodding their heads.”
Yera describes Moon as “ridiculously smart”, but her expressiveness and openness make everything easier to accept. “You want to listen,” Yera says, “and she makes it safe to ask questions.” Moon’s DiSC style is “iD“, and Yera points to that as one reason working with her can be fast and fun.
“One outcome of the diversity/inclusion effort,” says Yera, “is the fact that there have been tangible results—we’ve attended training sessions, created a D&I committee, brought in an unconscious bias expert for a seminar, put out an agency-wide survey on diversity/inclusion and have had sometimes uncomfortable but very necessary conversations with the senior leadership. There is even a ‘Magnet Team’ for diversity/inclusion made up of some of the senior leaders of the agency.”
While a case can be made for emotional detachment being the right approach for professionals, being expressive is powerful and important.
Thanks for reading,
Being expressive is a leadership behavior that helps drive Inspiration during the Alignment process of the Work of Leaders.
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This is the eleventh post in an 18-part series. Throughout the series, I’ll be providing real-world negative examples from a variety of settings.
For positive examples, we’ll look at one specific case study: the Small Business Saturday initiative from American Express. Small Business Saturday has become part of the holiday shopping lexicon (positioned between Black Friday and Cyber Monday) and reminds us to “Shop Small” and keep our dollars local. It’s been tremendously successful and is a huge initiative, but there’s a behind-the-scenes story that lifts up best practices in leadership we can all adopt; not every leader or team member involved is a high-level executive at American Express. In fact, much of the effort was a product of the work of a specific team at M Booth, a mid-sized award winning PR firm. Follow along to learn more. To start at the first post in this series, click here.