Christina Haxton combines psychology with humor and brain science to enable newly promoted executives to harness the power of their potential to become authentic and sustainable leaders. Connect with Christina on TwitterLinkedIn or her blog. Also, check out “Lessons from the T.R.A.I.L: The Art & Science of Exceptional Leadership” on her website.

With everything else you are juggling, how can you create positive lasting change and build resilience in your team, support complex human interactions, help people embrace conflict, build trust to retain valuable employees and be able to adapt, and yet be flexible enough to change at the speed of light while continuing to focus on the business’ bottom line? That tall order calls for a little conversation about intimacy. No, not the talk about the birds and the bees you had with your teenager, but professional intimacy.

Beyond Emotional Intelligence (understanding your needs and what motivates you), and Social Intelligence (understanding of and attending to needs of others) lies the practice of Professional Intimacy. As a leader who learns and practices the skills of Professional Intimacy, you see the relationship as the platform upon which you develop your sustainability. You not only strive to develop yourself personally, but also help others to find their own unique purpose and creativity, like the ripples when you throw a rock into a pond.

Your ability to communicate with care and compassion is actually felt and builds trust. There’s a bonus in it for you, too. Richard Boyatzis’ research on the positive physiological effects of compassion shows it reduces power stress, a unique stress experienced by leaders. (Ignore the effects of power stress and you are headed for physical burn-up, mental burn-out, or both).

Professional Intimacy is a three-step process in which you can become a more sustainable, resilient leader while building trust.

  • Know thyself. Leaders can answer the following questions to develop awareness and clarity: Who am I? Where am I going? Why am I going there? Reflective questions build your EQ, or emotional and social intelligence muscles, in your brain. Take time to reflect on what you learn about yourself from successes and mistakes.
  • Seek to understand others. The same brain chemicals that are responsible for you feeling fear are also responsible for you feeling curious. The only difference between feeling fear and feeling curiosity is how I explain the situation to myself, which may be inside or outside my awareness. When you are curious rather than defensive (fear) and willing to listen to others at a deeper level, the conversation becomes a way to make a positive connection at a personal and emotional level. This is experienced as caring, which inspires hope, connection and resilience in others. It is this skill of communication that affords you as a leader the greatest opportunity to make a difference in your day-to-day interactions with others.
  • See relationships as opportunities. It is in relationships that we learn and grow and in conversation that we create reality for ourselves and others. Here is your opportunity to build trust and create a strong relationship, which is the key ingredient to facilitating positive change, inspiring creativity and fueling internal motivation in people. Every conversation is an opportunity to learn and grow, which is the ultimate brain candy.

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14 Responses to “Effective leadership begins with professional intimacy”

  1. [...] instigating a leadership revolution. ← Connecting-The-Dots: TRUTH Matters LinkEffective leadership begins with professional intimacy By Ace in November 1st 2011   No Comment » Filed Under Leadership [...]

  2. Shawn Murphy says:

    Christina,
    This topic is near and dear to my heart. We will likely always have managers who lead from a distance – emotionally, relationally. Those, though, that chose to embrace the professional intimacy you write about will find the relationship between manager-employee to reveal greater results even greater meaning in work.

  3. Christina, I'm with Shawn. This is a topic close to my heart. LOVE the term, "professional intimacy." Where have you been all my (professional) life? :)

  4. Good tips. Of the six principles necessary for highly effective teams, trust and empathy are very powerful principles that give leaders social power, which builds a sense of belonging in companies. And, employees who feel understood tend to be more motivated and more connected to the work they perform.

  5. Car Dealers says:

    Good tips. Of the six principles necessary for highly effective teams, trust and empathy are very powerful principles that give leaders social power, which builds a sense of belonging in companies.

  6. In 1993 the concept of “Professional Intimacy” was born, but I was told it was a “no-no” to use those words together … “We don’t talk about emotions, much less relationships in the office … keep your “feelings” at the door.” I felt like the child in the parade, wanting to shout “BUT THE EMPEROR IS NAKED!!!” and being shushed by the adults in the room. Naively, I heeded their advice … here’s the story of how it ended:

    http://leadchangegroup.com/professional-intimacy-secret-sustainable-leaders/

    Are you, too, listening to “bad advice” by “wiser” mentors?

  7. Kim Freedman says:

    Great post, Christina. In my work with leaders, I see major resistance to being or appearing to be vulnerable. And, I wonder, can professional intimacy exist without some degree of vulnerability?

  8. This is nice post. Of the six principles necessary for highly effective teams, trust and empathy are very powerful principles that give leaders social power, which builds a sense of belonging in companies. We will likely always have managers who lead from a distance – emotionally, relationally. Those, though, that chose to embrace the professional intimacy you write about will find the relationship between manager-employee to reveal greater results even greater meaning in work.

  9. Vulnerability, humility, authenticity and exceptional leaders should all go hand in hand – astute observation and excellent point, Kim! To HR outsourcing: what do you see as the relationship between the ability of a leader to build trust and a leader’s willingness to be vulnerable?

  10. Jen Sellers says:

    I LOVE using "professional" and "intimacy" in connection with one another. I also appreciate the link of fear and curiosity. I've long recognized how close fear and excitement are – doesn't Fritz Perls say fear is excitement without breath? – but I hadn't made the same connection between fear and curiosity. Thank you for this beautiful post, Christina!

  11. [...] « Your ability to communicate with care and compassion is actually felt and builds trust. There’s a bonus in it for you, too. Richard Boyatzis’ research on the positive physiological effects of compassion shows it reduces power stress, a unique stress experienced by leaders. » – Effective leadership begins with professional intimacy. [...]

  12. So where in the men's bathroom will you tape a copy so they can? :-)

  13. just kevin here says:

    Wise post.
    Leadership is all about relationships. True leadership is partnerships.

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