The benefits of taking your clothes off

We sat across from each other in our coaching session. He was a strong leader who didn’t normally have these heart to heart conversations with anyone. Yet at this moment, he felt compelled to tell me about his child, a kid who didn’t fit into the world as “normal”, requiring a great deal of his love and time. This child was what mattered most in the world to him.

Even though this leader was tough, a leader in a job that was physically and mentally demanding, he began to cry as he spoke of his child. I didn’t want to stop him from doing something that was bubbling beneath the surface of his daily life. He’d tucked his emotions in tightly in his work world. I listened.

When we were done, he wiped his face and did his best to “man up” before he stepped out of the door to face his work and his team again. Heaven forbid should they see him as weak and unable to lead with the required authority and toughness.

Yet with me, with the door closed, he was transformed into the human being we all are; vulnerable and imperfect. Metaphorically, he took his clothes off, revealing a side of him that others never saw.

But should emotions be hidden at work when it comes to what matters most to us?

Our organizations are buttoned up places where softer emotions aren’t appreciated. Yet they surface at times and let us know that we are alike in our struggles. Those moments draw us closer, allowing us to see that we aren’t alone, and that we’re all human beings who need each other.

Could it be that the very relationships we need with each other are deepened by the glimpses we have of each other’s nakedness (vulnerability)?

The next time you feel ashamed of showing some emotion over something that matters deeply to you:

Know that you aren’t alone in any struggles you have, the emotions you feel, or realization of the depth of feelings you have over what matters to you. These are normal, and not something to be embarrassed about. The depth of your feelings about what matters to you are exactly what makes you a good leader.

Realize raw emotions draw us together and are a thread that runs through everyone’s lives. Those emotions can be a foundation for the place where relationships deepen, even when we might disagree on everything else. They can l help us to be stronger together to help accomplish all of the missions of our lives and work.

Understand that relationships are built on the humanity of this common thread of “what matters most” to us. Although what matters may differ between us, the emotion we feel is the same, and it is the core of our being fully human. If the depth of our feelings peek out and are seen, they are a source of strength, not a weakness.

Emotional connections that deepen relationships are made in that moment when you feel most vulnerable. You are forever bonded in humanity with others when you’re able to express what matters most to you with feeling.


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “The benefits of taking your clothes off

  1. It’s funny that this article should appear after I read an article by the Blanchard Company. The writer there made the observation that many companies ascribe to the theory “It’s not personal, it’s business,” and called it out as a myth.
    We spend most of our waking hours at work and the belief that emotions shouldn’t matter at work is harmful. I like their advice: All emotions at work are acceptable; some behaviors at work are not appropriate.

  2. Hi Mary,

    I appreciate your distinction between emotions and behaviors. Emotions can trigger either acceptable or unacceptable workplace behaviors. Which begs the issue of the importance for leaders to manage themselves and to be aware of their emotional states and potential triggers.

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