Show your feeling side—and be a better leader in 2021

Posted 29 April 2021 by
Kevin Wood

“You’re an intimidating person.”

“I am NOT an intimidating person.”

“You really don’t understand the impact your personality has on other people.”

Ouch. Feel the tension.

This was an exchange between Curt Welling, former CEO of Americares, and Dr Pamela Manfredo Curtis, executive coach, on an Americares leadership development program. Watch their short interview on Thinking v Feeling organizations—and no, it’s not tense. It’s a very friendly recollection of an epiphany moment for Welling.  

At the time, Welling had an analytical, entrepreneurial leadership style. But the organization he’d joined, the non-profit Americares, needed something else. It needed more Feeling. His style was making an impact on people, but not the right one. 

It’s a useful reminder for leaders right now because Feeling is big news for 2021.

Here’s why.

The rise of well-being

Well-being has become a priority for organizational leaders and HR experts. It’s at the top of Deloitte’s Five workforce trends to watch in 2021 and it’s easy to see why. 

Home working means there’s a massive overlap between personal life and work life. Everyone’s susceptible to more (or different) stresses than usual, and each person has unique circumstances. Some have few opportunities to switch off and recharge fully.  

This is why many organizations are prioritizing well-being and putting initiatives in place. But for well-being initiatives to succeed, leaders and managers need to take an interest in employees’ personal circumstances. 

And this puts leaders at an interesting juncture.

Organizational leadership is generally biased toward the Thinking preference. It’s partly because men hold the majority of leadership positions, and men tend to be Thinking types. 

But research shows that female leaders tend to be Thinking types too. The broad norm for organizational culture is to have decision-makers who are objective, critical, and logical. You can read more about it in The Expectations and Demands on Today’s Leaders from our report on key topics in people development.  

So, how does this work in the current climate?  

With limited success, probably. Because there’s a real danger that leaders aren’t having the empathy that people and organizations need right now.  

Making the case for empathy 

At Forbes, Melissa Daimler, executive coach, discusses Three Leadership Skill Shifts For 2021 and Beyond. She writes that leaders need to move their skills:

If we look at this in MBTI® terms, it’s a move toward the Feeling preference—understanding other people’s situations and values. It’s a shift away from the objective and toward the subjective.  

In her Building Leaders’ Feeling Muscles interview with Dr Allen Hammer, Dr Manfredo Curtis describes empathy as “really trying to imagine yourself in [someone else’s] shoes.”

And Tim Schuler, in this Leading With Personality article, writes, “for those with a Feeling preference, decisions are not just about seeking an objective truth, but involve an exploration of values, both their own and others”.

In a climate where personal circumstances now have a huge impact on everyday work issues, this is a key consideration for leaders. “Fairness from the Thinking perspective is about treating everyone equally,” Schuler adds, “whereas the Feeling viewpoint is that, in order to be fair, leaders need to treat people as individuals.”

Building feeling into leadership style 

What can leaders do? 

A good starting point is to revisit the Thinking-Feeling process in their own MBTI profile. Leaders can see if they naturally prefer Thinking or Feeling and understand exactly how they tend to make decisions. 

Next is to learn more about the Feeling preference. Then find ways to flex behavior and use it—that is, learn how to communicate in Feeling terms. By getting to know how to talk to and listen to people in this way, leaders are better equipped to build relationships with employees. 

This puts them in a great place to start the well-being conversation. And, as our research shows, the manager-employee relationship has the biggest impact on an employee’s well-being.  

Feedback style is also worth looking at, especially in remote working conditions. Thinking types often prefer recognition at the end of the project or task, and a Thinking leader might typically give feedback in this way—because that’s what they themselves like. 

But this won’t work for Feeling types who want to be recognized for their effort and contribution before the project’s end. And for feedback to be meaningful, it needs to arrive earlier in a project or task.  

These are just a few things for leaders to consider when empathy and well-being are at the top of organizational must-do lists. Let’s open up and show more Feeling in 2021.