3 Practices of Emotionally Healthy Leaders: Part 1 – Mutuality

3 Practices of Emotionally Healthy Leaders: Part 1 – Mutuality

Have you ever worked for a bad leader? 

Have you ever worked for a bad leader that was convinced they were a great leader?

One observation in my experiences with bad leaders is that they are rarely aware of their leadership shortcomings. More often than not, poor leaders are convinced that their leadership style is effective and productive. The scariest part is that some of these leaders are EXTREMELY “successful.” So what metric should we use to quantify the effectiveness or the success of a leader? My personal belief and the focus of my leadership coaching is that “healthy leaders” lead healthy teams and healthy teams win. At the heart of every healthy, winning team, you’ll find a healthy leader or coach.

There are 3 practices of emotionally healthy leaders that I want to examine. Emotional health in relationships (professional or personal) fosters cultures of mutuality, reciprocity and freedom. As a result, these three characteristics cause professional relationships, team dynamics and leadership development to flourish team-wide. Overlooking these powerful virtues within team dynamics can be catastrophic to your culture.

Emotionally Healthy Leaders Focus on Mutuality

Mutuality in a leadership context is often a foreign idea to dictatorial leaders, heavy handed managers or insecure micro-managers. In contrast, a mutual leadership relationship, leaders have the confidence to relate to their team as capable peers. There is no place in an emotionally healthy leaders life to assume superiority. As a result, they acknowledge those things that they know as readily as those things that they do not know. Emotionally healthy leaders are secure enough in the ability of their team members, that they are willing to yield to their instincts just as readily as trusting their own ideas. Leaders who embody the value of mutuality leave room on their team for others to shine and lead as well.

3 Common Practices of Mutuality In Leadership

  • Ask questions.
  • “Accept” your team.
  • Manage the tension between an individual’s potential and their current capacity.

1. Leaders who practice mutuality ask questions:

Questions are incredibly powerful in leadership. That is to say, a good question can be used to help lead someone into discovering a truth for themselves. A good question can uncover a subtle or unknown motive. For instance, the right question asked in the right way can actually help bring awareness, comfort and even healing to people. Leaders who practice mutuality ask questions refusing to buy into the age old pressure to have all the answers.

I realize that the idea of good questions and bad questions can be a bit abstract. For the purposes of this article I would suggest that a “good question” is one that is free from agenda. There are manipulative questions used in conversation regularly. A “leading question” is not a good question, in that the question does not allow room for self expression. The answer is essentially implied in the question itself if it isn’t explicitly suggested. For example, “you don’t think we should proceed with this current trajectory where we are losing precious resources…Right?” That is a leading question.

Five Great Outcomes!
Good Questions:
  • Allow room for self expression.
  • Give permission to your team to share with whatever level of vulnerability they are comfortable.
  • Drill down to the deeper wells in your team which often brings creative ideas,
  • Foster camaraderie
  • Creates space for greater trust among team members.

2. Leaders who practice mutuality “accept” their team

I actually had a leader say to me one time, “This is why God put me in your life. I’m going to help you with this.” There are so many things wrong with that statement. Not the least of which is the idea that I wasn’t capable of “being” or “becoming” without this specific leader. In addition, it was implied that I was a project for him. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. 

Acceptance of your team is a critical component of practicing emotionally healthy leadership. A critical need for leaders who want to be emotionally healthy in relation to their teams is to understand their leadership needs boundaries. In other words, it is not a leaders responsibility to “fix” people on their team. If someone is toxic to the chemistry of the team, perhaps they’re in the wrong seat. Some leaders prefer to try to fix others and make them fit verses the less convenient work of finding a better role for that individual. I see it all the time. Leaders mistakenly try to make great people conform to roles they are not suited for. So, the leader works feverishly to make them fit and the individual feels frustrated by their own ability to fit.

Emotionally healthy leaders accept individuals where they are and as they are. If they don’t fit the organization, a healthy leader will make a change organizationally which will benefit both parties in the long run. Diverse opinions and ideas are like brilliant colors on an artists palette. What brilliant artistry could come from a leader willing to accept the individuals on the team and dare to add their collective beauty to the organization?

3. Leaders who practice mutuality manage the tension between an individual’s potential and their current capacity.

Emotionally healthy leaders are able to play the long game. One person’s potential may not be the same as their current capacity. So a healthy leader will allow that individual to shine within that capacity while caring and challenging them until their potential is realized. The alternative is to shame someone for not being all they can be at this very moment. Scaling projects to an individual’s or a team’s current capacity is a sure sign that a leader is more interested in fostering healthy culture than driving for some immediate payoff.

“The fact that the leader seeks to receive from the follower profiles the transformational leader as a learner, not the one who has all the answers. It is this modeling of learning that impacts the follower to perceive that they, as followers, are also learners and as such can enter into a free exchange with the leader. …The emphasis on mutuality allows the follower to help frame their own vision as part of the overall vision setting process, as well as impacting the leader to further develop the vision.”

Mary Miller, “Transformational Leadership and Mutuality”*

This is by no means a deep dive into the idea of mutuality and its role within the emotionally healthy leader. My purpose is to introduce one of several core virtues of an emotionally healthy leader. Remember, “healthy leaders” lead healthy teams and healthy teams win If you are interested in learning more about emotionally healthy leadership, I’d love to chat with you. Feel free to email [email protected] and we can set up a time to talk. Be sure to watch for my next article on the practice for 3 Practices Emotionally Healthy Leaders: Part 2 – Reciprocity.

Miller, Mary. “Transformational Leadership and Mutuality.” Transformation 24, no. 3/4 (2007): 180-92. Accessed October 2, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43052709.


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