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Peter Aceto, president and CEO of ING Direct, says he prefers staff to tell it like it is so the company can fix the problem. (Jessica Blaine Smith)
Peter Aceto, president and CEO of ING Direct, says he prefers staff to tell it like it is so the company can fix the problem. (Jessica Blaine Smith)

LEADERSHIP LAB

How about a little passion at the office? Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

I remember the first time I showed my anger in a meeting. It was a turning point in my career. I was always known as a likeable guy, but I’m not sure anyone knew what I was passionate about.

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In business – and life, for that matter – we learn to hold back our emotions because we’re told that expressing our feelings is a bad thing. Of course, there is some truth to that, particularly when it comes to how we express ourselves, but holding back our emotions should never come at the expense of showing who you really are and connecting with people.

Is it okay to show sadness, fear, and excitement – even anger? Absolutely. In fact, the best leaders do. The problem is that no one provides guidance on how to express emotion. The more senior we are in our roles, the more stoic we are expected to be. Conveying feelings of frustration, humour, even love, are not deemed great leadership qualities. For a CEO? No way.

Very early on in my career, I showed little emotion, even when I really wanted to. This is what I thought was the right way for a leader to behave.

But years later, during one particular meeting, I didn’t hold back. I came prepared, with a plan to show why I was frustrated and demonstrated my feelings respectfully, thoughtfully, passionately – and angrily. It was a defining moment that changed the course of my career as a leader. I learned that I could be myself and still earn the respect of my peers. And it gave my team a window into the person I am.

It takes courage to take off the mask of false leadership. But it has wonderful advantages. My ability to connect with people yields tremendous amount of loyalty. I work with a team of senior executives where it is safe for all of us to speak our minds. We all fight passionately and thoughtfully for what we believe is in the best interests of the business. And our passion produces results. Not only in our high employee-engagement levels, but also in the connection we build with our customers on the phone, at our cafés, and online.

Leadership does not have to be robotic. Showing emotion has the ability to generate the numbers leaders are typically measured by. Yes, I’m talking about caring, compassion, disappointment, even love toward one another.

So do emotions have a place in business? You bet they do. Business is built on relationships that take shape over time. And it is emotions that motivate teams and nurture the connections needed to get the job done.

It’s really not rocket science. When you care about each other as a team, you try harder, you simply give more. We win together or we fail together. You owe it to your teams to let them know where they stand, either with love or frustration.

Encouraging leaders to bring their feelings to the table may seem unconventional but it is the surest way to build a connected environment primed for success.

Peter Aceto (@CEO_INGDIRECT) is president and chief executive officer of ING Direct (@SuperStarSaver).

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