Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Bracketing: A critical executive leadership skill
On June 6, 1944 General Eisenhower had spent the last two days agonizing over the inclement weather that was putting the largest invasion in history in peril. By waiting for optimal weather conditions, he would lose the advantage of surprise. The Germans would be able to develop a line of defense and build up their forces. Worst of all allied troops, who had been anxiously awaiting the call to attack, would be forced to linger; morale would certainly suffer.
However, by attacking now the storm and fog could significantly disrupt all air and sea operations. Eisenhower could end up failing on a monumental scale. We all know what happened, Ike gave the go-ahead and the rest is history. He addressed his officers calmly and confidently saying, “I am quite positive we must give the order. I don’t like it, but there it is….”
Imagine the stress and the real fear that Eisenhower was managing. How could anyone facing these potential consequences maintain composure and appear confident when so much was on the line?
The answer is found in a key leadership skill called “Bracketing.” Bracketing is the ability to put tough feelings and emotions aside, knowing that you will return to them at the appropriate time. It allows you to focus on the moment and maintain your composure even when your “insides” are troubled. It doesn’t deny feelings; rather, it allows you to manage them appropriately.
As a business leader, you must be able to bracket your emotions. If not, your emotions will get the better of you; your critical thinking abilities will be negatively impacted. More importantly, those around you will become confused as they witness that your facial expressions, body language, and demeanor seemingly are disconnected from your words. They will be distracted wondering what is wrong with you and your message will be lost.
Bracketing takes practice. Prior to addressing an individual or group, spend a moment to consider your emotional state. What is really going on? If you are feeling angry, stressed, tired, or distracted, accept it. Then, imagine putting these emotions on a shelf you will return to later. Ask someone you know and trust to observe you and provide feedback on your performance.
Eisenhower believed that great leaders aren’t born, they are made. One of the leadership skills he employed was bracketing. Eisenhower was able to hone this skill so effectively that, even under the most trying of circumstances, he was able to instill faith and confidence in those under his command; and, in so doing, changed the course of history.