Part III: “Leading with emotional courage” by Peter Bregman

Merkle’s unofficial book club presents: 5 books to improve yourself - and your business - during Corona

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” (Simon Sinek) Most people at Merkle (including me), started to work here because they felt inspired by their potential future colleagues during the recruitment process. I realized this once more when, very naturally, an unofficial Merkle book club started to form around a year ago. We would exchange books that we had read and loved, that made us wonder or grow or want to talk about with colleagues.

For most of us, the Corona crisis comes with some extra time: no more commuting to work, for some less or even no work at all; no big trips or activities are possible. On the other hand, there is plenty to worry about, when given time with oneself alone. Insecurities about your own health and that of loved ones, but also financial issues are faced by most of us.

I’d like to encourage you to worry less and read more. These 5 book recommendations will not only give you a way to fill your time, but also motivate and possibly inspire you! Their lessons are suited for both personal growth or for business  improvement - independent of your role, status, or sector. To get you started, I will share my own experience from both personal and professional perspectives. Let’s go!

“Leading with emotional courage” by Peter Bregman

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Let’s get real for a second. These are scary times. Not only are we forced to physically be isolated, we are all more likely to feel isolated as well. We all crave the sense of being supported. Of being led with confidence and courage through these difficult times.

If you are anything like me, you like a good list of instructions. Handily, becoming an emotional courageous leader comes with exactly that, because Bregman’s book is structured into four main chapters: 1. Build your own confidence

2. Connect with others

3. Commit to purpose

4. Cultivate Emotional courage.

While most of these are more or less self-explanatory, the most difficult step is saved for last. And funny enough, the fourth chapter taps in really nicely with the main message of the book “Daring Greatly” (Part V of this series). But I guess if it were easy, there would not exist so many books about leadership and self-improvement!

How my personal experience is connected to reading “Leading with emotional courage”

One thing I like about working at Merkle is the culture around feedback. At least once a year, we ask our team members to give us feedback on how they saw our performance within the project, for two reasons: 1) to build our knowledge of how we are perceived and what potentials for improvement others see 2) to provide a rounded-up picture of how we perform to our superiors. For me as a project manager, 2019 had been a busy year. I remember a few consecutive weeks of workshops planned back-to-back. My main partner was one of our most senior consultants, Michael, who had the lead in these seminars. I had met him before working together through one of Merkle’ trainings, and knew that he was an extremely experienced strategist and moderator. So I was confident and very happy to work and learn with him. However, as Michael himself was involved in many different projects and was traveling a lot to get everything done, communication got a little patchy between us. At a certain point, I got so anxious about one particular workshop that, the night before it was supposed to be going down I questioned whether we could actually pull it off or whether we would be ruining our reputation. I remember calling Michael that night and asking him point blank: “Should we cancel the workshop?”. Long story short - we conducted the workshop, it was a productive session that set us up for more than six months of successful cooperation and achievement with our client in their communication department. So when it came to our talk about his feedback for me, I was sure to get some constructive criticism in terms of how I could contribute to better communication and preparation. After the initial small talk of our session, Michael started the conversation like this: “After a while of working together, I noticed you were paying more and more attention to risk management of our projects. While this is part of your job, in my opinion, it was too much.” “Alright”, I thought. “Now tell me how I can improve!” Michael went on: “In hindsight, I realize I should have given you more confidence in my preparation and capabilities, even while on the road, so you wouldn't have had to worry so much. I am sorry.” I was awestruck. This was a session for him to give me feedback, yet Michael opened up about what he thought he himself could improve. At that point, I started realizing: if he was willing enough to be vulnerable with me like this now, surely he would have been vulnerable enough in case he wasn’t able to conduct the workshop successfully. What Michael had achieved by doing what he did were two things: I felt deeply understood and thereby connected to him, and my confidence in his leadership soared. I made a pact with myself that, from that point on, I would trust him more even when communication should get patchy between us again.

How your business can improve from you reading “Leading with emotional courage”

A friend recently told me about his great experience at an IKEA store. Obviously you cannot go inside and shop there now with the restrictions due to the Corona pandemic. However, you can still order online and pick up your products.  When my friend did so, apparently he was greeted at the entrance of the IKEA parking lot by a smiling employee, asking for his order number, politely explaining he should park in one of the spots marked with a number. My friend did so and was approached by another friendly employee, who asked for the order number again, then went away. My friend waited at the numbered parking space, separated by about 2 free spots from the next numbered space, where another client waited. Then yet another IKEA-labeled person rolled along with my friend’s assembled purchase pieces on a pallet. After everything was put in the car, the employee jokingly said: “oh, don’t worry about the cart, I will bring it back and disinfect it, so you don’t have to.” My friend was blown away. None of these people had worked like that before, ever. Some may have worked in the now closed kitchen section, some in customer support & returns, or as cashiers. Yet all of them were confident, friendly and of great service, undeterred by their circumstances. They also seemed to work in perfect connection, despite their situation being new. As if they were committed to the same purpose. IKEA’s mission statement is “create a better everyday life for the many people”, and they seem to strive for exactly that even during current Corona times. If you ask me, this is the sure sign of one thing: great leadership. 

The best thing you can provide your team or employees with is confidence despite uncertainty. If you have confidence you will recover from it, if you have confidence in the mitigation measures being taken during this crisis, show it to your colleagues and employees! And if you are worried and need help or if you made mistakes - be honest about it. This is what fuels connection. If your business is affected in a way that you cannot operate normally anymore, remind yourself of your mission statement. How can it be interpreted differently, with the current situation? Remember the purpose you once committed to - how can you ignite it now? Manager, employee or freelancer - all of our leadership skills are in demand right now. So put on your super-emotional-courageous-(wo)-man cape, and let’s fly!