As a Leader, Do You Know How Full the Emotional Cup Is?

Today's article is from Greg Beckman. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and after six years of service he transitioned to logistical operations in New Jersey and Atlanta, GA. In 2001, he moved to pharmaceutical sales and sales operations leadership within Abbott and AbbVie. Here he weaves an all too important tale about emotional intelligence.


In almost every movie within the genre of Kung Fu (yes, I am a fan), there is a specific scene to set the emotional pivot of the story. It opens with the learner passionate about enhancing his or her skills. The young character is established in the story after suffering a trauma or maybe even a small victory. This emboldens their need to learn more advanced skills, quickly! Then the camera pivots to the Master, a character of sophistication and experience – robes and long, white hair. The student asks, and at times demands, to be educated in the ways of Kung Fu in a very bold and direct manner. The Master now teaches the student their first lesson with a story. “Tea?” the Master will ask and as a courtesy, the pupil will say “Yes!” Raising a cup, the pupil watches as the Master pours the hot liquid. The level rises and expression of the pupil changes from eagerness of learning to concern as the level of the tea rises. Eventually, the student pleads for the pour to end, but to no avail. The tea overflows and the cup is dropped. The scene closes with the Master saying “to first learn, you must empty your cup!”


What would a Kung Fu scene have in common with understanding leadership or emotional intelligence? As leaders, our role is to empower and unleash the creative minds of those around us. This requires effective and efficient feedback and coaching. But how does one assess how full an emotional cup is?


Before any learning can happen, leaders need to pause and understand just how full our emotional cups are. Why use a plural – shouldn’t we just care about the person we are preparing to share information with? Of course, our first duty is to them. Understanding their emotional mindset, just how full their cup is, will allow the leader to assess the most successful approach to providing needed feedback and coaching for future success. The skill is empathy – know how others are feeling by emotional, language and non-verbal clues to assess just how empty their cup is and how quickly you are filling it. Empathy is a critical skill demonstrated most notably by excellent listening skills.


Equally important, and often overlooked, is the cup of the coach. Providing feedback/coaching can be cathartic and actually lowers the emotional cup of the leader. But what would an effective coaching segment be if the leader did not ask…”anything for me?” Consider this: what if the employee feels confident enough to discuss an important issue with you, but you are not emotionally ready for the conversation. This sets a potential precedent for a one way coaching session, which degrades long term learning and performance. Employees are very astute in sensing non-verbal, emotional, and language clues!


How does one avoid the paradox of “take this, but I do not want any….”? Take time and assess yourself before any deep interaction. Are you ready for feedback, if offered? Just how full is your emotional cup today? As a leader, you have a responsibility to prepare fully for the interaction, and that includes an emotional reservoir capable of handling reciprocal feedback and coaching.


In the end, we are all beautifully unique human beings, each with a different capacity for the give and take of sharing – coaching/feedback or other. Being self-aware of that capacity in ourselves and others allows us to be more effective, connected, and efficient in our leadership.


All the best



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