Emotional Maturity in Leadership

By Paul Herrerias and Ashlee Cabral

In kindergarten we are taught that when you make a mistake, the best course of action is to 1) admit your mistake; 2) apologize; and 3) attempt to right the wrong.  So why is it today, so many of us in leadership positions have let this principle slide?  Why is it that when we make a mistake in business leadership we attempt to hide, play the blame game, or make up excuses?  Why do we even put ourselves into potentially embarrassing situations when we could be more emotionally mature?

Emotional maturity can be defined as the way in which we know and handle ourselves when faced with a situation that cannot be controlled.  In the business world it means facing one’s problems with grace and composure when something has gone utterly wrong, regardless of who is at fault.  Emotionally mature leaders take full responsibility for their mistakes, apologize, and offer a solution. They are aware of and honest about their own emotions and do what is best for everyone, not just themselves.

Being aware of our emotions, and acting selflessly, is at the core of emotional maturity.  Such awareness can help us better handle or even prevent embarrassing scenarios.  Setting an example for and encouraging others to do the same is good leadership.

During potential career transitions our emotional maturity can either shine or be challenged at these three junctures: 1) when pursuing an offer; 2) when considering a job offer; or 3) when tendering a resignation.  Recently, we have observed both good and bad examples of how to handle each of these three situations in our retained search practice.  The good examples included being honest with prospective employers about your level of interest and likelihood of accepting an offer or counteroffer; selecting truly qualified career advisors when considering an offer to ensure high-quality, relevant advice; and being upfront, constructive, open and honest with current employers when resigning.

Hiring organizations expect the most emotional maturity from C-level candidates, as they set the tone for everyone in the organization.

How we handle stress or failure and how we treat others in the process defines a leader.  In stressful situation often the best course of action is honesty, again a concept learned in kindergarten.  If you miss a deadline, a deal goes south, a mistake is made or you don’t meet your goals, then try approaching the matter with honesty.  Explain what happened without hiding the details or glossing over the mistakes.  Explain what went wrong and then explain how you are going to fix it.  When you step into that meeting with your supervisor, the board of directors, or even the employees for whom you are responsible, they want to know what went wrong.  While they may be upset at first, always be prepared to show how you are going to fix the problem.

Then the people who hold you accountable can learn from your emotional maturity and exercise some of their own.  Sure, there may be repercussions, but even if they are upset, they will appreciate your honesty and confidence.  When you offer solutions to rectify the situation you created, then you can more easily get them moving forward with ideas or suggestions for next steps.

When you show emotional maturity in the face of adversity, failure, or potential embarrassment, you show those around you that you are a trusted and effective leader.

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